What if a ‘pirate party’ is created?

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What if a ‘pirate party’ is created?


The leader of the Pirate Party (Piraten Partei) Sebastian Nerz arrives for a news conference about the results of the Saarland state election, in Berlin March 26, 2012. [REUTERS/NEWSIS]


Daniel Tudor

Most European countries now have something called a “pirate party.” These are grass-roots, Internet-driven groups motivated mainly by disappointment with mainstream politics. Underlying party policy direction is not set at the beginning by the leadership, but rather debated internally and voted on by members, reflecting the idea of the party as a “platform, rather than an ideological stance.”

Pirate parties are mostly composed of geeks, and due to their online origins, tend to expend a lot of energy on tech issues, such as net neutrality. As may be expected, they barely register in terms of voter share. I wonder if a pirate party in Korea would do any better. The kind of thing I have in mind would not be called a “pirate” party, as nobody would take it seriously in that case; and, it would not have any specific focus on the tech world. Rather, it would be a ‘real world’ political organization that debated mainstream issues and produced policies and candidates for election, but also be one driven by its members and enabled by the power of the internet.

One of the saddest things about Korean politics is its extreme top-down nature, and the sense of powerlessness that ordinary people have about it. Have you ever asked for an appointment to meet your lawmaker? Would he/she meet you if you did? And did you know that in many European countries, it is actually normal to ask (and get) a meeting with your representative?

People themselves encourage top-down, “big man” leadership, in my opinion - even though genuine leadership is obviously quite lacking. There is a tendency to look for saviors, and a tendency to put public figures on pedestals. This is true of older voters who, remembering her father, cast their ballot for Park Geun-hye no matter what. And in a different way, it is true of the young, too - they fall in and out of love with people like Ahn Cheol-soo, and enthusiastically attend “Talk Concert” and readings of certain progressive cultural critics and trendy professors. Every day I see friends post quotations of such figures on social media, and I want to respond, “but what do you think?”

Instead of building up heroes - a sure route to disappointment - why not venerate ideas, debate, and democracy itself? Why should the next political phenomenon be not a person but rather an Internet-driven organization that starts off with no particular ideological stance or regional origin, and like the Ancient Greek agora, provides a platform for whoever wants to participate? The founding charter would be simple but guarantee “one member, one vote” - leaders would naturally emerge, but they would do so through their level of participation and skill, and in any case, would be bound by majority decision. Candidates for office would also, of course, be picked by one member, one vote, from members living in their constituencies.

Meanwhile, offline debating “salons” could be organized at the local level, in cafes and halls, and so on. Those interested could attend debate evenings after work, and take it in turns to talk about any issue of their choice. Others would then be able to respond, with the only rules being that you respect the other person’s opinion and do not raise your voice - how that would contrast with usual political debate! Local party leaders could emerge over time from such meetings as well. And even if not, how much better it would be if people went to debates with their own ideas, rather than attend yet another talk concert.

A popular grass-roots “pirate party” would be, at least at the beginning, completely separate from the narrow networks that run everything in this country. That means it would have a good chance of coming up with policies that reflected what people actually want, and sincerely pursuing them.

No country surpasses Korea in terms of how far the Internet has seeped into people’s lives. And the sense of disappointment here at corruption, incompetence, and indeed, the lack of ideas - it is frequently said that there is no genuinely conservative nor progressive mainstream politics in Korea, and I do have to agree - is also strong. If a “pirate party” wouldn’t work in Korea, it wouldn’t work anywhere.

I have to be slightly realistic here and admit I do not believe that a Korean pirate party could win real power - and in the unlikely event that it did, it would probably end up diverging some way from its original ideals. I do believe, though, that such an organization could do well enough to pressure the mainstream parties into better reflecting what the people want and pursuing more transparent and responsible politics. That in itself would be a huge achievement.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 24, Page 28

*The author is the former Seoul correspondent for The Economist.

BY Daniel Tudor

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