‘I couldn’t vote for a DP that lost democracy’
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
During the 2017 presidential election, a power Twitter account going by the nickname “The Left” (@1theleft) exerted a strong influence over the general public, not just the Moon Jae-in faction, by creating a sensational campaign poster to support Moon. It featured the images of late Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun with the slogan, “Let’s continue creating waves.” In the March 9 election, that Twitter account declared support for opposition People Power Party (PPP) candidate Yoon Suk-yeol, generating heated discussions about his U-turn. (Yoon was elected president in the election.)
Hyun Geun-taek, spokesman for the presidential election campaign for the ruling Democratic Party (DP), raised a conspiracy theory in January that Moon loyalists, including The Left, would create a fake video showing the party’s candidate Lee Jae-myung using curse words. The Left immediately responded with a poster with the slogan, “It’s me! If the people vote for Yoon Suk-yeol, it’s because of you Hyun!”
It became a reality. Moon supporters openly endorsed Yoon, and The Left created campaign posters supporting Yoon.
Members and supporters of the DP countered The Left by making public the identity of the owner of the account. Lee Dong-hyung, a host of YTN Radio’s current affairs program, exposed the age and gender of The Left on a YouTube broadcast. “Even after the election, the truth about the muck flies should be revealed. Their identities will soon be disclosed,” said Lee.
Then, Won Hee-ryong, policy chief of the PPP and a lawyer, came forward to defend the Twitter account. In a strange development, the difference between friends and foes disappeared. After the presidential election, the JoongAng Ilbo exchanged several emails with The Left to find the reasons for the dramatic shift.
Q. During the 2017 presidential election, Moon offered a thank you message through social media. Did you have a personal meeting with Moon?
A. I have never met any politician until now. I was invited for meetings a few times, but I declined all of them. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, I could not even go on a Blue House sightseeing tour.
Lee Jae-myung, a former Gyeonggi governor, was the presidential candidate of Moon’s DP. You are a Moon loyalist, so why did you support Yoon from the PPP?
Politics is a service and a candidate is a product. One vote is reportedly worth 67.87 million won ($55,353). You cannot buy a wrong product with this expensive vote. Lee is a politician with a criminal record and serious ethical lapses. The presidential primary of the DP that ended up with the victory of Lee was a controversial process. Party members hoped it would all disappear when Lee was named the candidate. Members were clueless when democracy collapsed. Resistance against the unacceptable development was expressed by their support for Yoon.
How do you evaluate President-elect Yoon?
I have to know more about him, but he is a fast learner, unlike a political rookie. He has an exceptional communication ability. I have some expectations for now. He appeared rigid and sharp, but it seems that he has many soft sides, too. I want to learn his cooking skills of making rolled omelet [which he showed in a TV show].
After you openly supported Yoon, DP lawmakers and other bigwigs in the party such as Kim Ou-joon tried to reveal your identity. What did you feel?
Yoon’s wife, Kim Kun-hee, once called Kim Ou-joon a “businessman of himself.” I agree with that. YouTubers and podcast hosts are politically self-employed. They don’t have an ideological consistency or completeness. I interrupted their business with posters I created myself. As they were selling a product they should have not sold, they must have felt uncomfortable when I pointed that out. There were many serious threats. Attempts to track down my identity and whereabouts continue. As I changed my address and phone number a long time ago, I am not scared. But I worry about my family’s safety. Lee supporters’ violence has reached serious levels as they have assaulted, cursed and threatened reporters, party members and some politicians. I will be cautious and take legal action when necessary.
At the beginning of his term, Moon was criticized for calling his supporters’ attacks on the opposition some kind of “spices” for our politics. What do you think about that?
There can be overenthusiastic supporters, but all actions should be within legal boundaries. Although the media do not differentiate the Moon loyalists from Lee loyalists, the two are very different groups. Lee loyalists’ threats, insults and violence are not “spices,” but simply acts of terror. I cannot agree with their kind of madness.
Yoon won a narrow victory. What was the impact you and Moon loyalists had on the outcome?
Yoon won by 0.73 percentage points, or 247,077 votes. It could have been the expression of rage from the Moon loyalists who were insulted by the DP as “a handful of fanatics.” Also, it could have reflected the Honam voters’ hope that Yoon will overcome regionalism. It was a victory made by ordinary people’s votes wishing for a greater Republic of Korea. I think the victory was the outcome.
What do you wish for both the DP and PPP?
Both parties must think over the meaning of this narrow victory. We are living in a different time period. The PPP must become a ruling party with dignity. It must protect principles and communicate with the people. The people are sick and tired of the language of hatred. The PPP must learn a lesson from the DP’s defeat and become a party that can unite the people. The Daejang-dong land development scandal [surrounding Lee] and the allegations that Lee’s wife Kim Hye-kyung ran a Twitter account to defame President Moon must be reinvestigated thoroughly. The DP must learn lessons from its defeat and completely reform the party.
Since you became prominent in 2010, you have had a big impact on elections. Why are you doing this without any rewards?
My friends criticized me for doing this without gaining anything. If I have to give you an answer, it’s because I enjoy it. For a creator like me, generating a new idea and sending a message are the most enjoyable things. I am not a designer or a worker in the advertising industry. When people like my work and share it, I feel thankful. I also enjoy supporting someone. It is like fanboying or fangirling an idol.
How do you identify yourself?
I am still “The Left.” But the spectrum of the liberals is wide. It can be left or right depending on where you see it. You must not just see the left and right. Instead, you should see up and down and front and rear. People and common sense come before any ideologies. Liberals can support conservatives and vice versa. You must distance yourself from extremism. In the past, regionalism was a problem, but factionalism has replaced it. Only established politicians and the media profit from creating divisions between the left and right, between generations and genders. Mainstream media, including the JoongAng Ilbo, are not free from this responsibility. As some media outlets produced fake news to support some politicians, Korea’s media reliability was ranked at the bottom for five years in a row. As a result, voters trust sensational YouTube broadcasts. Because of cruel language and factional divisions, our political culture regressed further. We must repent it. The last presidential election gave us a challenge that we must overcome the divides.
How do you produce high-quality works within a short period of time?
Intensity matters. After deciding a theme, I immerse myself completely. Street signs, passing cars and every moment of a day turn into symbols. After I finish structuring an idea, production does not take long.
Will you withdraw support for the DP for a while?
I support democracy. If the DP has democracy, I will support it. If not, I cannot support any party.
Do you still support President Moon? What would have happened if [former prime minister] Lee Nak-yon won the DP’s nomination?
My support for Moon remains unshaken. If Lee Nak-yon had been the presidential candidate, I would have supported him. But if Lee Jae-myung had won the primary without the vote-counting controversy, most DP members would have accepted the outcome even if they did not like him.
Do you have any more to share?
Please don’t use the expression, “change of a heart” to describe me. From the beginning, Moon loyalists like me had never supported Lee Jae-myung. I also want to say that this interview is the personal opinions of an individual, The Left. So it does not reflect views of the Moon loyalists. As the Moon faction exists as a group of individuals, we do not have a representative. I do not want to give you the impression that I represent them.