Still a shamanistic practice?Yoon Seok-youl, the presidential frontrunner of the opposition People Power Party (PPP), has stirred a controversy by appearing in a television debate with a Chinese character meaning “king” written on his palm. Opponents from the PPP as well as the rivaling ruling Democratic Party (DP) found it as an expression for a good-luck spell and accused him of resorting to shamanism.
The debate over the word game has become so childish that former Dongyang University Prof. Chin Jun-kwon sneered, “Even during the Joseon Dynasty, the shamanistic practice was banned at the royal court. Why not hold a rite as in the feudal days if Yoon is so desperate to win?”
Yoon should be embarrassed for sparking a controversy about superstition. Yoon denied any meaning of the word and claimed it was just a message from one of his supporters to do well in the TV debate. Still, he cannot be excused for being so thoughtless as to appear on national TV with the character “king” on his hand.
A president is elected by the people whereas a monarch succeeds to the throne to dominate national power. Korean presidents have been accused of being “emperial” due to their past authoritarian ways. Many viewers ridiculed Yoon for naively accepting a supporter’s request.
Yoon’s aides have been equally pitiful. A spokesman from his election camp explained that such a character only appeared at the fifth debate. But TV footages showed the letter on his hand in the previous two debates, too. Another said Yoon had tried to erase it, but the letter did not easily come off. That’s a poor excuse.
There has been hostility towards some of the presidential candidates for this election. There is a pile of urgent issues that need to be addressed — people helpless in finding a place to live due to a horrendous spike in housing and rent prices, the self-employed teetering on the brink of bankruptcy due to the Covid-19 crisis, and worsening joblessness of the young generation.
Wisdom must be mustered for ways to resolve deepening inequalities and demographic challenges from low fertility and aging population as well as devising a vision to keep up competitiveness in the new global order in the pandemic’s aftermath. But instead of vying in policy contest, politicians are entirely engrossed in mudslinging and childish debates on superstition. The public come to question if they really need to maintain the current political system where power centers on a single president.