Republic of dissatisfactionThe Republic of Korea is the republic of dissatisfaction.
Only 23 percent of those with jobs are satisfied with their work, a survey of 9,997 adults reported last month in the 2016 Korea Allied Economic Associations Annual Meeting showed. Only one out of 10 people said they are adequately recognized for their work. The real unemployment rate of young people between the ages of 15 and 29 reached 35 percent. Those in their 20s, 30s and 40s are the first generations who are living poorer lives than their parents, and the country has earned the nickname “Hell Joseon” as a result.
It is no wonder more than 70 percent of people say they want to migrate to another country if possible.
Dissatisfaction snowballs as time goes on, but this is not the first time in the country’s history that this has happened.
During his 24-year reign, King Jeongjo of the Joseon Dynasty made visits outside the palace 66 times and heard 3,355 verbal petitions from ordinary citizens. Those who were illiterate could ring a bell when the king passed by, and then they were allowed to raise their complaints.
When the petitions were unreasonable or petty, the complainer was subject to a punishment of 100 floggings. But when the king made his first outside trip, more than 50 petitions were filed. During King Myeongjong’s rule, there were so many petitioners that the government flogged them first before listening to their complaints, but it was impossible to quiet their dissatisfaction.
Now, a question arises. We are living in an era with in which ordinary people are extremely dissatisfied with our elections. But why do the opposition parties lose? Over the past decade, the ruling Saenuri Party always won — the general elections, presidential elections, local elections and all by-elections.
During the seven general elections that took place over the past 30 years since democratization, it lost control just once. The ruling party appears to be damaged by the current nomination crisis, but the public has no doubt that it will still win the upcoming election.
There are various theories. One out of three people are from Gyeongsang, and one out of four are from Jeolla, and regionalism contributes to the situation. The elderly are also sure supporters of the ruling party and always record high turnout. Furthermore, our election system is made up of single-member constituencies in which the winner takes all. It is far from an even playing field.
The theories are right, but the true reason is the incompetence of the opposition. They fail to make enraged voters head straight to polls. They should have lit a fire using the heated public sentiment, but for some reason, the opposition parties seem to only want to fight each other.
In the past, there were some liberal issues such as debates on free school lunches, but the opposition parties are only left with their own in-fighting with only 20 days before the election.
It is no wonder that university students are planning their spring trips to coincide with election day. Ahn Cheol-soo used to be the hope of the young, but his approval rating is only 5 percent among those in their 20s and 30s that live in the capital region. University students and the young, therefore, created their own political parties one after another, and they plan to “Occupy the National Assembly” this weekend.
It is frustrating that the opposition parties are also not telling the public why they are fighting each other. In order to break the long-held structure of the two-party system that relies on regionalism, a new political party and new leader are needed, Ahn has said. He is right. But there is no way to find out how the People’s Party is different from the Minjoo Party of Korea. The People’s Party said it will welcome all lawmakers who are abandoned by the Saenuri Party and Minjoo Party. What does that even mean?
Ahn used to say that his party has a liberal economic policy and conservative national security stance. He, however, is promoting the Sunshine Policy largely to court voters from Jeolla. We will have yet another regional political party. Some said the more Ahn works, the more the Saenuri Party will change. But the Minjoo Party is ignoring the situation.
The local election a decade ago was the only one in which the opposition didn’t have an electoral alliance. At the time, the Uri Party was completely crushed in the capital region, except for winning the Guri mayoral seat. Four years ago, voters in their 20s and 30s had a turnout similar to that of elderly voters in the last general election and the opposition formed an alliance, but the playing field was still level.
And yet, the Minjoo Party and People’s Party are just waiting to see an opportunity to benefit from the aftermath of the ruling party’s nomination crisis. It is no wonder that the Minjoo Party is criticized for avoiding responsibility, and the People’s Party is criticized for for avoiding reality.
Candidate registration took place on Thursday and Friday. Once a candidate is registered, the name will stay on the ballot even after he or she has bowed out from the race after candidate consolidation. In other words, the countdown has already begun.
JoongAng Ilbo, March 24, Page 28
*The author is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.