President calls for unity while in GwangjuThere was no rivalry on the political front as the country paid tribute to the Gwangju citizens who lost their lives during the democratization movement on May 18 , 1980, 42 years ago. President Yoon Suk-yeol led a train full of senior members of his cabinet and the People Power Party (PPP) to the memorial event in Gwangju. More than 100 attended from the conservative front, matching 100 from the liberal front including leaders of the Democratic Party (DP). The event produced a rare sight of lawmakers from opposite sides clasped in hands as they sang to the anthem of the democratization movement.
In his address, Yoon said “Every citizen of South Korea is a citizen of Gwangju” to urge national unity. “The spirt of May 18 is a restoration of universal values and a free democratic constitution.” He went on to say “Values of free democracy and human rights are a philosophy of unity bringing the people together” to argue the “spirit of May 18 is the pillar to national unity.”
He also pleaded for cooperation from the liberal front that has contributed to the democracy of the nation as the president of a conservative front that has led industrialization.
Yoon and lawmakers of the conservative party hand in hand sang to the “March for the Beloved” for the first time.
The conservative front had refrained from singing to the song since the May 18 Democratization Movement was made a national memorial day in 1997.
Former President Lee Myung-bak attempted to sing along in 2008, but had to keep the song out from the following year in the face of strong protest from conservative groups. The song returned to the ceremony in 2011, but former President Park Geun-hye did not sing. Families of the deceased held a separate memorial ceremony in protest to the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs’ refusal to sing to the song.
Yoon and PPP have put an end to the discord.
Yoon, with little political experience, raises expectations of changes from the conservative party. Political parties have survived the contest between die-hard of supporters of extreme poles. Yoon must exemplify unity through appointments and policy. Out of 18 ministerial and vice-ministerial level appointments, there is only one vice minister from Gwangju and South Jeolla. Too much reliance on Seoul National University alumni must also change.
The DP should also end its stubborn ideological reasoning. Uniting the nation and doing away with regionalism cannot be the task of the conservative front alone. Votes from Honam – home to liberal presidents – and Daegu and North Gyeongsang – the support base for conservatives – had been overwhelmingly tilted towards certain candidates. The DP commanding the supermajority in the legislature has the power to enhance the lives of the people together by keeping the executive branch in check. Yoon’s radical move must trigger a competition for self-reform.