After the race comes concordI was not comfortable with the foreign media’s coverage of our presidential election. Newspapers and broadcasters referred to President-elect Park Geun-hye as a daughter of a “former military ruler” or “former strongman” - with a strong undercurrent of mockery and derision. The underlying attitude was belittling of the quality of Korea’s democracy.
Is Korea as backward as they suggest? After the election, the defeated candidate acknowledged his loss and the winner embraced his efforts. Maybe they were only being courteous on the surface, but still they acted like respectable statesmen. The high turnout of voters and the tight outcome signified that Korea’s election was a legitimate race just like in any other advanced democracy.
The votes were split by generations, but even in the United States, the Democrats and Republicans dominate different states. The race was intense until election day, but we are back to normal now. So the foreign media were mistaken and possibly prejudiced to suggest that Park was elected because Korean democracy is not very mature.
This election, in fact, illustrated the fact that Korean democracy is not as rowdy as it once was. The biggest weakness of democracy is populism. Many European countries are struggling with the rise of populism at this very moment. Both of our presidential candidates made populist promises, but Korean voters did not make a choice based on populism, unlike some Europeans.
Another weakness of democracy is the egoism of individuals. Voters make a judgment based on their personal interests rather than the interest of the state or community. But this time around, Koreans were concerned about their national security, suggesting that they feel responsible for the overall security of the community. The fact that voters were not swayed by populism and were concerned about the safety of the community means that Korea’s democracy is mature.
There are noteworthy analyses that voters in their 50s played a pivotal role in this presidential election. We need to understand this age group properly. Koreans older than 60 suffered from extreme poverty, while those under 40 never experienced such unforgettable pains. People in their 50s were students when the country was oppressed by a dictatorship. They were the last generation to experience widespread poverty and personally participated in the nation’s economic development. They suffered when democracy was suppressed and know what poverty means.
Nearly 90 percent of voters in their 50s exercised their votes in the election. What does their choice mean? They know about both democracy and the economy. In the course of the campaign, they felt anxious. They thought they should not let the country go this way. Having lived through the modern history of Korea, they wanted to speak out on what was right for the country. They valued the nation more than ideology or personal interests.
In a democracy, each vote has the same value. The candidate who gets a single extra vote wins. But each voter makes a decision based on different personal experiences, and some have lived through the turbulent phase of Korea’s history for 50 years. Others have only begun to learn about the world and society. The older voters did not ask their voices to be counted more than anyone else’s. Their children are no longer listening to their opinions. So they decided to go to the polling stations and make their voices count.
The aggregation of their votes changed the race’s outcome. Park Geun-hye of the ruling Saenuri Party won the majority by a slim margin, but this election ended the see-saw game of the left and the right. The young generation needs to think about why voters in their 50s made such a choice.
What would have happened if the election ended the other way? Does a god of history really exist? The god of history does not get involved in mundane affairs all the time. The god is watching over the world behind a veil. But he seems to remove the veil when he cannot wait any longer. Just like the guardian angel in a fairy tale saves a hero in a crisis, the god seems to be safeguarding the Republic of Korea at critical moments. It could be what people call “collective wisdom,” but the god may have moved the hearts of the voters in their 50s.
History is not a cycle. History should move forward. We must not return to the crippling discord and divisions of the past. As we celebrated Christmas, we need to think why Jesus Christ was born to this world. The master of the universe gave up privilege and came before humans as the most humble being to teach the meaning of peace and love.
Now the winner of our votes needs to give up privilege and embrace and include those hurt in the course of the fight during the election campaign. The supporters for the winner and the defeated are almost equal in number. If they embrace each other and listen to the story from the other side, the peace of heaven will come to this land as well.
*The author is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Moon Chang-keuk