The game changes

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The game changes

Lee Jung-min
The author is the chief editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

I heard something unexpected from a senior politician from the Donggyodong faction. He served former President Kim Dae-jung his whole life, and said he has high hopes for the opposition People Power Party (PPP)’s new leader Lee Jun-seok. “People increasingly feel favorable towards Lee in the Honam region, and at this rate, many people will vote for the PPPP in the next presidential election,” he said. A YTN and Realmeter poll showed that the rating for PPP in the Honam region (South and North Jeolla Provinces) marked 14.8 percent.

The comment by the old Honam politician made me feel the change that the 36-year-old opposition leader has brought. The old politician had high regard for Lee’s boldness to speak up on issues that can be disadvantageous to the opposition and for his clear expression skills not avoiding sensitive issues. Gallup Korea executive Heo Jin-jae said Lee has the talent to keep his beliefs while making others feel that he was embracing his opponents. The PPP’s Supreme Council member Kim Jae-won praised Lee for his outstanding talent for refined political language.

Lee recently promised that the conservative party won’t cause pain to the people of Gwangju again. He said, “I would create a culture of not using derision on former President Roh Moo-hyun as a political means.” Lee also admitted that the conservatives were wrong to be negligent in respecting the achievements of independence activist Kim Gu (1876 -1949), a nationalist and one of leaders in the Korean Provisional Government established in China after 1919.

Lee’s remarks are sweet talk, yet they reverberate. His straight-forward language sounded true because of the weight of his self-confession. “I thank President Park Geun-hye for recruiting me [ten years ago]. But I think her impeachment was fair. I won’t ask pardons for Park and President Lee Myung-bak.” His courage to say things that people want to hear but conservative politicians find hard to say in the capital of Korean conservatism — Daegu — have made him an influential “messenger.” Overlapped with the political engineering and established politics calculating advantages and disadvantages, the sensation Lee made has become more effective.

A 36-year-old opposition leader with no experience as a lawmaker is a strange and unprecedented reality. There lies the solemn challenge of the time Lee must overcome. It is the public desire for a “game changer” to transform the old power structure divided into the authoritarian group and the former activist group and change the political narrative stemming from the two divergent forces. It is a call to end low-grade authoritarian politics that have sickened the people and hindered the nation’s advancement into the future.

The administration changed seven times since the “completion of systematic democracy” in 1987, but politics has become even lower grade. Rather than serving the public interest or the majority, Korea’s politics have turned into a cartel of political groups to promote their own interests based on an oligopoly. As politics serve interests of camps, not people, politicians don’t hesitate to buy votes to strengthen group interests. The appearance of a game changer to bring down the old style of politics is desperately needed.

It made news that new PPP Chairman Lee commutes on the subway and shared bikes. In developed countries like the U.S., the UK and France, many lawmakers do not own a car and commute on public transportation, but a PPP leader riding a subway seems very strange to Koreans. Voters’ consciousness has been paralyzed as excessive privileges for politicians are taken for granted. I want to see the routine of the young party leader become a “new normal” in politics.

The semifinal round of the debate battle aimed at picking the spokesperson team of the PPP, which ended Wednesday, reflects the desire for administration change and political change. In the battle for a four-person PR team, 560 contested. The YouTube channel has hit 330,000 views. As the stark contrast between the event and the subsequent recruitment of a 25-year-old college student as the presidential secretary for youth in the Moon Jae-in administration suggests, the show-oriented government’s bare face has been revealed. If the debate battle succeeds, it will be a severe counter-strike on the old politics lacking imagination and philosophy.

Lee needs to expand his target instead of remaining in the boundary of politics for the young. I hope he takes the role of a game-changer for political and social changes beyond the public desire to change the administration. Lee said that we must dream of an impossible future to make the world a better place. I hope Lee makes his dream come true.
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