Constitutionalism and the Liberal Party Under Siege: #Shigak no. 12

By | September 18, 2014 | No Comments

A screen grab from a JTBC report on the Won Sei-hoon ruling. | Image: JTBC

A screen grab from a JTBC report on the Won Sei-hoon ruling. | Image: JTBC

“Shigak” (시각), or “perspective,” is a multilingual data collection effort that uses Twitter to curate sources dealing in key political, social, and economic issues on South Korea. Each bimonthly issue takes only the most important tweets posted by Sino-NK analysts under the hashtag #시각 and augments them with essential annotations and a small dose of concentrated analysis.

Shigak is edited by Steven Denney and Christopher Green. Back issues can be found on the dedicated page.

Constitutionalism and the Liberal Party Under Siege: #Shigak no. 12

by Sino-NK

The first half of September showed no mercy to the beleaguered New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD). The resignation of the party’s co-chairs, Ahn Cheol-soo and Kim Han-gil, brought no relief; interim chair Park Young-sun’s struggles since taking over reveal that the party’s core remains riven by myriad disagreements and divides. In the meantime, support for NPAD continues to plummet, even among the usually stalwart progressive youth. More news- and analysis-worthy stories covered in this Shigak include the results from a survey jointly conducted by the Ministries of Education and Unification regarding support among elementary, middle, and high school students for unification; the court ruling for former National Intelligence Service chief, Won Sei-hoon; and the always-interesting threats and commentary coming from Pyongyang.

The following tweets were posted between September 1 and September 15.

A Gallup Korea poll shows that support among the 19-29 age cohort for the two mainstream parties is split (29% for the liberal New Politics Alliance for Democracy, and 28% for the ruling Saenuri Party). Support for NPAD, across all age cohorts, has been low as the party struggles to find its footing in the Park Geun-hye era. Failure to canvass on a message that resonates with voters and its inability find enough common ground with the ruling party on the Sewol bill has left the party internally divided and increasingly unpopular.

Lack of support of among South Korea’s young for the liberal party is not a new phenomenon. The post-Sunshine era electorate is markedly more conservatives in their values and political attitudes. The Left’s inability to adapt to a changing electoral base best explains why, even among young voters, support is bottoming out. However, the “gusts of popular feeling” are prone to sudden changes. One wrong move by conservatives and a few good moves by the liberals could change things very quickly.

On September 4, the United States and South Korea announced plans to organize a combined wartime division. During peacetime, the troops from each country will train together but live at separate bases. The combined division would be led by a commander general of US Second Infantry Division with a South Korean brigadier general serving as deputy. KCNA claims this is as a threat from the leaders of the United States, who “seek to put the south Korean army under tighter control… in a bid to step up the preparation for a war against the DPRK.” The division is tasked with services such as civilian affairs operations in North Korea and seeking and removing the very nuclear weapons materials which serve as a central goal in Kim Jong-un’s national strategy.

On September 12, in a meeting with NPAD officials, partyn leader Park Young-sun announced that she wants to appoint people from outside of the party as co-chairs of the emergency committee. In an interview, Park expressed that “it will be better if somebody from the progressive camp and reform-minded conservative camp can co-chair the emergency committee.” The candidates were Lee Sang-don and Ahn Kyung-hwan. Lee is currently an honorary professor at Joongang University but he had worked for the Saenuri Party in the past. Ahn is currently an honorary professor at Seoul National University and had worked for former presidential candidate Moon Jae-in. Park’s attempt to bring in Lee has created a such controversy within the NPAD that she is facing immense pressure to resign from her position as floor leader. Many perceive Lee as a conservative who is too close to the Saenuri Party. Both Lee and Ahn have declined to co-chair NPAD’s emergency committee.

It is unclear why Park tried to appoint Lee as a co-chair. She may have found it was necessary to bring in outside help to refresh the party image following the defeat of July 30 by-elections. Also, Park wanted to present NPAD as a centrist party to gain support from conservatives. Park has faced criticisms before when she made a surprise announcement that she had made a compromise with Saenuri Party on the Sewol bill, which she later retracted amid fierce pressure. Some within the party call for her resignation. It is likely that infighting within the NPAD will continue, as various factions within the party will try to strengthen their respective positions by next year’s party convention. [On September 18, a new interim chair was approved by the party. – Editor]

JTBC reports on the Seoul District Court’s ruling for former National Intelligence Service (NIS) chief Won Sei-hoon on charges of election interference. The court found Won guilty of inferring in interring in domestic politics, a violation of NIS law, but not guilty of violating the Public Official Election Act. The former NIS chief was handed down a two and a half year jail sentence for posting 780,000 disparaging comments about the 2012 presidential opposition party candidate, Moon Jae-in. According to one explanation of the ruling, “The court said although the actions of the NIS did constitute political ‘involvement,’ they did not meet the election law definition of ‘campaigning,’ since they lacked purposefulness, proactivity, and premeditation.” After a lengthly debate, the procecution has indicated it will appeal the ruling.

Had Won been found guilty for violating the election act, it would have likely been read by the South Korean public as an admission by the court that the NIS swayed the election results in favor of Park Geun-hye, a position held by many skeptics. Many in civil society, including the left-leaning Hankyoreh, were quite clear in how they saw the ruling. On the day of the ruling, Hankyoreh reprinted a “blistering criticism of the ruling” by Kim Dong-jin, a chief judge at the Seongnam branch of the Suwon District Court. The title of his critique? “Constitutionalism is dead.”

Moving again North of the demilitarized zone, DPRK Premier Pak Pong-ju called for better inter-Korean relations, the venue being a speech marking the 66th anniversary of the North’s founding. While the medium and message appeared conciliatroy, Pyongyang has yet to respond to Seoul’s most recent suggestions for specific areas for cooperation, including reunion of separated families and participation in an international biological diversity conference. Xinhua coverage of the speech highlighted the theme of mending North-South ties in conjunction with “a new phase of independent reunification.” Such language may indicate that Premier Pak’s speech does not mark any policy shift toward South Korea, but instead serves to reemphasize his state’s isolationist tendencies.

According to a survey jointly conducted by the Ministries of Education and Unification released in late August most South Korean students cite security reasons as biggest need for reunification. But, there is divide across ages of students: 71 percent of elementary school-aged students may believe reunification is necessary, compared to 54 percent of middle schoolers and 48 percent of high schoolers. As Steven Denney and John Cha pointed out on Twitter, seeing reunification as necessary, and the reasons for seeing that need, may reflect a larger change in perception of citizenship and nationalism in South Korea. Seeing North Korea as a security threat rather than common brother for the youngest generation seems particularly pronounced in the government poll. An Asan survey from 2013 traced the differences for those in their 20s through 60s, which Shin Gi-wook argues indicates weakening ethnic ties with North Korea.

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