Ruling party backpedals on education comments

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Ruling party backpedals on education comments

The ruling Democratic Party (DP) apologized Monday for comments made by its lawmakers about a seemingly rightward shift in the politics of younger Koreans.

Responding to a recent poll that shows a decline in support for the Moon Jae-in administration among people in their 20s, Rep. Sul Hoon and Hong Ihk-pyo said the shift was a result of the education policies of conservative governments.

In an interview with a local newspaper last Thursday, Sul said men in their 20s were particularly harsh on the Moon administration because they were educated under the Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye administrations. The comments echo sentiments expressed by party floor spokesman Hong Ihk-pyo during a National Assembly debate on Feb. 15. He said the two governments had instituted “anti-communist education” during their tenures “reminiscent of the Park Chung Hee era in the 1960s and ’70s.”

The conservative opposition immediately fired back, with the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) releasing a statement saying the DP was suggesting that youths are “brainwashed, primitive beings” and calling for the resignation of the lawmakers.

The minor conservative Bareunmirae Party (BP) also chimed in, with BP Rep. Ha Tae-keung saying Sul and Hong’s words were indicative of the “lack of empathy” embedded in the “DP’s DNA.” Even the DP’s more liberal partner - the Party for Democracy and Peace - criticized the remarks.

With backlash mounting, Hong tried to further explain his remarks to KBS on Sunday, insisting that he wasn’t saying those in their 20s were wrongly educated, but that right-wing ideological education had been cranked up under the conservative governments as a result of such incidents as the sinking of the Cheonan warship or the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island. Both cases resulted in South Korean fatalities.

Concerned that the gaffes would further dog the Moon administration and weaken already shaky support among the young - which served as the party’s core base of support during the last presidential elections - DP floor leader Hong Young-pyo on Monday made an official apology, saying he regretted the comments.

“The youth […] should be able to enjoy the privilege to dream of their future and hopes,” he said. “The party and government will try our best to empathize with the reality facing our citizens in their 20s.”

Despite attempts to address controversy, the damage done to the DP’s reputation among the young - particularly among men in their 20s - may be difficult to reverse any time soon. Recent polls show that only around 30 percent of men in their 20s support Moon - the lowest percentage among all age brackets - while 64 percent disapprove. By contrast, over 60 percent of women in their 20s supported the administration.

This disparity, analysts say, reflects the fact that younger men have been sensitive to the government’s gender-friendly policies, believing them to be reverse discrimination.

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