Who really represents me?

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Who really represents me?

The author is a reporter at the Innovation Lab.

The number of naturalized Koreans has surpassed 1 million for the first time. According to a 2018 census published in August by Statistics Korea, 330,000 households are multiethnic, totaling 1,009,000 people. They are naturalized Korean citizens, the spouses or children of Korean nationals. However, former Rep. Lee Jasmine, who became a member of the National Assembly through proportional representation in 2012, is the only naturalized Korean lawmaker the country has ever had. In terms of population composition, there should be at least six now.

Imbalance in age representation is even more serious. Thirty-four percent of voters are in their 20s and 30s, but only 0.4 percent of elected lawmakers in the 20th National Assembly are in their 20s. Politicians in their 50s make up a whopping 55.5 percent of the legislature, even though they account for only 19.9 percent of voters. According to the International Parliamentary Union’s 2018 report, Europe has a high percentage of lawmakers under 40. For instance, 41.3 percent of Danish lawmakers, 34.1 percent of Swedish lawmakers and 23.3 percent of French lawmakers are under 40.

Even in the United States, where politics is often considered a lifelong career, 6.6 percent of lawmakers are under 40. In Japan, which has the oldest population in the world, 8.3 percent of the legislature are under 40 — still more than Korea’s 0.6 percent — if you take into account proportional representation.

Korea’s representative democracy cannot structurally reflect the voices of the younger generations or people of diverse backgrounds. Some young people have turned their back on the ruling party, but the opposition party’s ratings have certainly not gone up — those voters feel like no party represents their voice.

A political party rests on representation. When today’s party system was established in Western society in the 19th century, the bourgeoisie and working classes created a two-party system. As political parties reflected social divisions at the time, they mediated discords to find solutions.

However, as society becomes more divided, more conflicts arose other than over class. The function of representation to advocate and coordinate complicated interests of gender, generation, culture and environment became more important. So a lot of European countries have smaller political parties advocating diverse values. They find middle ground through coalitions. In the United States, the two-party system flexibly responds to various issues.

But only Korea has such a dramatic and serious discrepancy between social division and party systems. People’s voices are diverse, but politics only has a two-faction rhetoric of liberals and conservatives. Whatever issue you bring to the table, Korean politics is divided into liberals criticizing their opponents as a “deep-rooted evil” and conservatives accusing their opponents of “communism.”

It is important to pursue grand causes like reform and justice, but the basic function of parliamentary democracy is representation. People entrusted power to the representatives not so they could do what they wanted, but to represent various voices such as contract workers, small business owners, young people and diverse cultures. What do Korean politicians represent today? They only represent their own factions and the interests of the establishment.

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 30, Page 32
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