Time to change our politics
The author is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
There is no comedy more ridiculous than the ruling Democratic Party (DP) considering itself a progressive party and the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) fancying itself as a conservative party. How can a party that tramples on the values of fairness be progressive and a party that belittles the value of honor be conservative? They are simply unidentifiable, pseudo political parties posing as progressive and conservative. If I must define them, they are both fundamentalists. Fundamentalism refers to the attitude of persisting to be right and not accepting questions or criticism from others.
Today’s Korean society is stuck in the extreme contest of the two fundamentalisms. One side is the pro-Moon Jae-in group that supports the liberal president no matter what, and the other side is the anti-Moon group that opposes anything he does. The confrontation and discord between the two fundamentalist groups disguised as progressive and conservative almost seem like a clash of civilizations beyond difference in their values.
The pro-Moon camp urges the president to do anything he wants to do, and they support every policy of the Moon administration such as its cleanup of so-called deep-rooted evils, prosecutorial reforms, income-led growth, nuclear phaseout, foreign policy friendly to North Korea and deviation from the alliance with the United States. The group is elite bodyguards of President Moon who do not allow any amount of reasonable doubt or different views.
Based on their absolute support, dividing sides and embracing allies of the Moon administration have become more intense. As seen in the relentless reshuffle of senior prosecutors digging into cases involving the Blue House, a lack of shame surpasses that of the former conservative administration. It is a typical case of resembling something you have been speaking ill of.
The anti-Moon camp always shouts the slogan “Overthrow the Moon Jae-in administration!” but it has never proposed a single constructive alternative idea for the nation. They are far from parliament politics and only focus on “politics of streets” in the name of “out-of-house” struggle. They maintain an authoritarian, outdated and backward style of politics. They are so far from the changes of the time that they only appeal to the far-right protesters by singing the old pro-America, anti-Pyongyang songs. Their old tactics of shaving their heads and hunger strikes also hasn’t changed.
As the April 15 parliamentary election approaches, the clash of the two fundamentalist parties is intensifying. Both the DP and LKP are desperate as they think saving or overthrowing the administration depends on the election results. It is obvious that the pro-Moon group and the anti-Moon group will integrate and engage in a battle for life and death. As the general elections are about two and a half months away, the outcome will depend on the voters on the middle ground who are sick of the two fundamentalist groups. Approximately one in three voters falls into this category.
The voters who do not like either pro-Moon or anti-Moon groups are floating. But they should not neglect or give up the election. They should use the situation as an opportunity to change politics. The biggest evil of Korean politics is the two-party frame disguised as conservatives and progressives. Their arrogance that the voters have to choose between the two should be punished.
A generational change of politics is an important task for this election. Those born in the 1960s — who have been swaying Korean politics for over 30 years since the democratization movement in the 80s — should be brought down, and young people under 40 should become the mainstream of our politics. The millennials in their 20s and 30s are the generation with the best qualifications in Korean history. They grew up in a digital environment, relatively free from ideological inclination, and are accustomed to collaborative culture. They also have a global sense prioritizing practicality. While some worry about their lack of experience, our anti-democratic political parties overwhelmed by the power of nomination — and dominated by hierarchy and factions — cannot be a strength.
In this general election, voters need to vote on the candidate, not the party, more than ever if they want to break the two-party structure and realize a generational change in our politics. Apart from party affiliation, voters should carefully look at the candidates under 40 and their promises. When many young candidates with flexible mindset enter the National Assembly and take bipartisan actions, the backward structure of our party politics can be broken. Competent young candidates should be supported regardless of their party affiliations, and the parties that promote such candidates as a central axis — rather than a one-time decoration — should be given votes.
The Moon Jae-in administration repeats the flaws of the past because of the “winner-takes-all” power structure. Unless the constitutional structure of giving everything to the party that wins more votes is amended, the power holder has to simply turn into an interest group. Constitutional revision is needed to enable politics of dialogue and compromise. The general elections will be a stepping stone to turn direction. The April 15 elections should be a feat that awakes the blind reasoning of the pro-Moon and anti-Moon fundamentalists and changes the old politics. The awakening of the group in the middle — neither pro-Moon or anti-Moon — and its active political participation are desperately needed.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 28, Page 31