Young South Korean men turn on Moon ahead of 2022 election
SEOUL – Jeon Yong-gi has an idea that he believes could help boost his political party’s fortunes.
A 29-year-old lawmaker for the ruling Democratic Party, Jeon recently advocated for the reinstatement of South Korea’s military point system, whereby men who complete their mandatory terms have a head start when they apply for positions. jobs in the public sector.
South Korea has a large army to deter aggression from North Korea, and the system was implemented in 1961 to recognize the unpaid efforts of men serving in the armed forces, usually at the start of your twenties – a time when most people prefer to earn money. or prepare for their career.
Jeon, who did not respond to interview requests for this article, argues these men deserve more substantial recognition for their sacrifice.
The points system was scrapped in 1999 after it was found unconstitutional on the grounds that it discriminated against women and men with disabilities who could not join the military.
“Even in 1999 … the court recognized that the men were not properly compensated,” he wrote on April 15 on his Facebook page. “As a man in his twenties myself, I will do my best to make it happen in the 21st National Assembly.”
Ruling party heavyweight and former prime minister Lee Nak-yon on Wednesday suggested that reviving the points system may have gone too far, but suggested paying conscript men 30 million won (about 26,650 dollars) after their service.
These ideas are more commonly associated with conservative South Korean politicians. The ruling party’s sudden plea for young men – many of whom argue that military service is unfair because women have no such obligation – has been interpreted as a thinly veiled attempt to win back young male voters before next year’s presidential election.
In April, South Korea held by-elections in the country’s two largest cities, with the Democratic Party losing both in landslides. Poll data showed that young people, especially young men, voted for the right-wing opposition in unusually high numbers.
As left-wing President Moon Jae-in enters his fifth and final year in office, he and his party grapple with sour public sentiment over the widespread perception that Moon has failed to deliver on his promises to revive the declining economy. At the same time, a number of senior officials in his administration have had to resign after being embroiled in corruption scandals that have tarnished the government’s image as a crusader of fairness and transparency.
In the last week of April, Moon’s approval rating fell to 29%, the lowest since taking office in May 2017, according to pollster Gallup. As a reason for their negative assessment of Moon’s performance, 28% cited their dissatisfaction with the administration’s property policies, followed by 17% who disapproved of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The change among young Koreans, especially men in their twenties, has more to do with anti-Moon sentiment than any strong appeal from the opposition,” Andrew Yeo, professor of politics and director of Asian studies at the Catholic University of America in Washington. , told Nikkei Asia.
“Some of the high marks of Moon’s policy and early achievements such as the 2018 Olympics, the inter-Korean summit and the minimum wage hikes that might have appealed to the younger generation have been overshadowed by corruption scandals and unintended consequences and political failures, ”said Yeo mentioned.
The South Korean economy grew 1.6% in the first quarter of this year, a surprisingly strong performance, mainly due to exports. While some industries, such as semiconductors, have flourished, large swathes of the population are still stuck in the economic slump. The number of people seeking unemployment benefits hit an all-time high in March.
“As global demand for contactless products has increased due to the coronavirus, this has led to a sustained recovery in IT products and investment in facilities,” the Bank of Korea said in a research note released in April.
“However, concerns are growing as to whether the current recovery is too dependent on certain industries, such as semiconductors, and whether this is desirable in the long term.”
The report showed that semiconductors accounted for 18% of South Korean exports in 2019, up from 9% in 2009. During the same period, South Korea lost share in the global markets for LCD displays, mobile phones and automobiles, according to the report.
Adding to public discontent is the perception that the government has dragged its feet to secure sufficient vaccine supplies, which has delayed inoculation of the population and lifted the social distancing measures that have ravaged the health services sector. ‘economy.
“Moon’s administration has been slow in government procurement because it was satisfied with the initial mitigation efforts,” said Mason Richey, professor of policy at the Graduate School of International and Area Studies at Hankuk University of the United States. foreign studies in Seoul, Nikkei.
“So now they are lagging behind peer countries when it comes to deliveries, and many people are rightly concerned that potential herd immunity will come later than it should. both a risk to public health and a bad one for the economy, ”said Richey.
As South Korea has grappled with the pandemic, in terms of public health and the economy, there are growing signs that the more than a year old fight against the virus has taken its toll on the nation. the country. According to the National Health Insurance Service, more than one million people sought treatment for depression in 2020, double the number three years earlier.
“Due to the changes caused by this protracted coronavirus crisis, many people suffer from burnout, which goes beyond depression and becomes impotence, where people feel like they can’t do anything by themselves, that hard work won’t change a thing, “Kwon Jun-soo, neuropsychiatrist at Seoul National University Hospital, wrote in a recent column.
Kwon linked this growing incidence of depression to the misdeeds of the South Korean elite and an increasingly winning social culture. “Accumulating wealth through lies and pretense, maintaining vested interests through inside information, is the dark side of a company overly focused on performance,” Kwon wrote.
Although Moon’s approval rating is far below the popularity he enjoyed at the start of his tenure, he nonetheless retained more support than South Korean presidents typically have at this point in their tenure.
The poll released in late April by Gallup showed that in the fourth quarter of Moon’s fourth year in office, 38% of South Koreans approved of his performance, the highest of any democratically elected president in the country and well ahead of his predecessor. , Park Geun. -hye, which had a 12% approval rating.
South Korean presidents have a single five-year term, which means Moon is not eligible for election next March. A RealMeter poll released in early May showed Yoon Seok-youl, a former chief prosecutor who resigned after a months-long public standoff over the administration’s efforts to pass reforms that would reduce the power of prosecutors, leading all candidates potentials with 32% support.
Next is Lee Jae-myung, an outspoken member of the ruling party who is currently governor of Gyeonggi province, which surrounds Seoul.
Democrats face an uphill struggle to improve their position ahead of next year’s big vote.
“The ruling party must overcome frequent scandals and impose greater party and personal discipline among its members. They have also polarized the electorate further by rejecting not only the opposition’s criminal charges but also public criticism. “Yeo said.
“Showing more humility and less pride while engaging the opposition in meaningful political debate, rather than outright dismissing its critics, could help move forward.”