LGBT Protests, Ageing Liberals, and Midnight Meetings: #Shigak no. 36

By | April 27, 2017 | No Comments

A screenshot from a video of the protest staged at the National Assembly by sexual minorities against discrimination. The caption reads: “A rainbow protest against discrimination towards sexual minorities.” | Image: 닷페이스 (.FACE)

On April 2, Sino-NK began a series of regular analyses looking at the South Korean presidential election through the lens of the Korean-language media, reviving a series that ran from February 2014 to October 2015. “Shigak” (시각), or “perspective” uses Twitter to curate sources on the key determinants of the election outcome. Each issue takes the most important tweets posted by Sino-NK analysts under the #시각 hashtag and augments them with essential annotations and a bite-size dollop of concentrated analysis.

Sino-NK will publish brand new #Shigak analyses three times a week between now and the election on May 9. #Shigak is edited by Steven Denney and Christopher Green. Yongmin Lee is a regular contributor. Back issues can be found on the dedicated page. Importantly, users of Twitter are encouraged to adopt the hashtag and take part in the project.

LGBT Protests, Ageing Liberals, and Midnight Meetings: #Shigak no. 36

by Sino-NK

This installment of #Shigak focuses on two political developments: Ahn Cheol-soo’s slipping popularity (and what he might do about that), and Moon Jae-in’s stance on sexual minorities in society and in the military. Also considered is the changing demographic makeup of South Korean society and what this means for the upcoming (and future) elections.

Yonhap News reported that People’s Party presidential candidate Ahn Cheol-soo held a 45-minute meeting with former Minjoo Party chief Kim Jong-in in the business center of the Grand Hilton Hotel in Seoul on the evening of April 27. Amidst constant media speculation about candidates opting to join forces (단일화) against frontrunner Moon Jae-in — which those same candidates mostly tend to deny (for more detail, see later tweet) — this raises the possibility that Kim might lend his political heft to Ahn’s chances of winning on May 9.

Offering nothing in the way of evidence for its conclusion, the Yonhap report alleges that Kim Jong-in “did not give a firm answer [to Ahn], but seemed to respond positively.”

Ahn may prove receptive to coalition-building given his sliding poll numbers, a phenomenon seemingly driven by conservatives drawn to him in the absence of a viable conservative candidate now leaching back toward Hong Joon-pyo and the Liberal Korea Party, whose reputation has recovered somewhat in a period during which the Park Geun-hye scandal has been mostly out of the news cycle. According to some polls, Ahn’s support in Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province has fallen spectacularly, down from 48 percent to 23 percent in a single week, while Hong’s has risen from eight percent to 26 percent over the same period. It remains to be seen whether there is any truth to the Ahn-Kim marriage rumor, to say nothing of whether the abrasive Hong can cling on to all or any of his gains.

Moon Jae-in has said he is sorry for the distress he may have caused to sexual minorities for comments he made during a televised debate, the Kyunghyang Shinmun reports. In a televised debate, Moon Jae-in was asked — baited, some may argue — whether he opposes homosexuality. Moon said he does, and then confirmed his opposition when asked again. In the Kyunghyang piece, Moon is cited as saying his opposition was stated in response to a question about homosexuality in the military. Moon openly agreed with conservative candidate Hong Joon-pyo, who argued during the debate that gay soldiers weaken the military.

Unsurprisingly, Moon’s comments upset progressive and activists groups advocating on behalf of the LGBT community in South Korea. A small group of activists interrupted a Minjoo Party meeting of national security and defense personnel outside the National Assembly, demanding Moon make his position on sexual minorities clear. The clarification reported in the Kyunghyang article is a response to this pressure.

While South Korean society is understood as being more conservative than other democratic societies on the issue of LGBT rights, available data indicate a trend towards greater tolerance and acceptance. The issue, then, is a matter of political leadership. Moon, however, belongs to a generation that, whilst known for their activist and politically engaged predisposition (data confirm they are indeed more “interested” and “engaged”), are also quite conservative politically and socially ( contrary to popular belief; data also confirm this).

On the question of gays in the military, the issue is more complicated, but as the case of the United States indicates, the problem is not homosexuals in the military, but the failure to recognize them in the military. In 2011, US policy reform permitted gays to serve openly in the military. The move was publicly supported by President Barack Obama, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

Government statistics show that there are 42.44m eligible voters in South Korea; 82.5 percent of the total population. Of vital importance within that total is the fact that the number of voters aged 50 and above has risen by 2.64 million since the last presidential election in December 2012, meaning that 44.3 percent of the voting population is now 50 or above. There are no fewer than 10 million voters aged 60 or above. On the other side of the coin, the number of voters in their 20s and 30s has declined by 580,000 since 2012.

How is Moon Jae-in defying the dead hand of demographics? An ageing population is generally beneficial to conservative candidates, since older people tend to vote more conservatively. The answer lies, in part, in the sheer incompetence and corruption of which the previous administration stands accused. However, a second, arguably more interesting variable is the voting preferences of the famed 386 Generation (386 세대). These are the people who were born in the sixties, tasted tear gas at university in the eighties and were, by the time the phrase was coined in the nineties, in their 30s. These voters, understood as more partial to liberal ideas than older generations, are of course now in their fifties. The result is that a big slice of South Korea’s rapidly ageing population might be voting more liberally than one would normally expect, which will be greatly to the advantage of Moon Jae-in.

On April 25, Bareun Party held a meeting and decided to push forward with creating a unified candidacy among Ahn Cheol-soo, Hong Joon-pyo and Yoo Seung-min. However, Yoo is opposed to merging his campaign with other candidates. He has stated that he will complete the race. Also, Hong has pointed out that Yoo will have to join his campaign and not the other way. Hong believes that he can win the election if he can get 80 percent of former President Park’s supporters. Furthermore, Ahn has rejected the idea of unified candidacy with Hong and Yoo but added that if elected, he will reach out to other parties and he will have an “open cabinet.” Bareun Party hosted a round-table discussion on unified candidacy but the representatives of Korea Liberal Party and People’s Party did not attend the discussion.

In its essence, unified candidacy is about creating an anti-Moon Jae-in coalition to stop him from becoming the next president. Talks of anti-Moon coalition have been underway even before the official start of the 19th presidential election. For example, former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was supposed to create a “big tent” and provide an alternative to Moon however, his quick exit had dampened the idea. Moreover, former Minjoo party member Kim Jong-in tried to run as an anti-Moon candidate but he quickly dropped out of the race as well. As less popular candidates are scrambling to catch up to Moon, a unified candidacy is a real possibility.  However, the biggest obstacle is that political power brokers are more enthusiastic about the idea than the three candidates themselves.