“New Politics,” Just like the Old? #Shigak no. 13

By | October 10, 2014 | No Comments

Machiavelli's cenotaph in the Santa Croce Church in Florence. | Image: Gryffindor, Creative Commons 3.0

Machiavelli’s cenotaph in the Santa Croce Church in Florence. | Image: Gryffindor, Creative Commons 3.0

“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.

“New Politics,” Just like the Old? #Shigak no. 13

by Sino-NK

Is the liberal party (the New Politics Alliance for Democracy, NPAD) ready to abandon a “new politics?” What would Machiavelli say? And whose interest is the Park Geun-hye administration looking out for? While South Korea’s National Assembly is back to business (for now), there are still a number of lingering questions and concerns about the state of Korean governance, from the political parties to the Park administration itself. Additional topics covered in this issue of #Shigak include South Korea’s changing national identity and a slight brouhaha in the South Korean defector community over the Korea Hana Foundation’s activities.

The following tweets were posted between September 15 and September 30.

Robert Koehler at the Marmot’s Hole shines light on a most disturbing development. It appears the Park Geun-hye administration may issue special pardons to “conglomerate owners and family members in prison on convictions of economic crimes such as embezzlement, breach of trust, and incurring losses to their companies.” Justice Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn is quoted (from another source) as asking, “Couldn’t they [the criminals] be given a chance if a national consensus is formed?” And then Deputy Prime Minister for the Economy Choi Kyung-hwan as saying, “Punishing businessmen with excessively stringent penalties is no help when it comes to economic recovery.”

While this is no more than a proposal at this point, it begs the question: in whose interest is the state acting here? The rationale behind comments from the ministers quoted above is that “if it is good for the economy, it is good for Korea,” but that is no rationale befitting a democratic government. It certainly seems as if the government is covering for the country’s elite to the detriment of good government and the body politic as a whole.

South Korea is gradually becoming aware of the growing diversity among its populace. From 2012 to 2013, children from so-called “multicultural families” (that is, families in which one parent’s birth nationality is not South Korean) increased 18 percent. Compared to all students enrolled in South Korean schools, these students comprise more than 1 percent. Examined another way, of these “multicultural” students, 85 percent were born in Korea, and 75 percent of these youth identify as “Korean,” according to a recent government survey. The changing face, both physical and social, of South Korea will likely play a key role in the evolution of South Korean national identity.

JTBC anchor (for the nine o’clock news) Sohn Seok-hee does a special segment on the rise (and fall) of Ahn Cheol-soo. Ahn burst onto the scene in 2012 under the self-proclaimed mandate to bring a “new politics” to an old and ill-functioning system, capitulating himself into the race for presidency and pitting himself against the pro-Roh faction heavyweight Moon Jae-in (who had already been nominated by the Democratic Party). While this excited many (mostly young) people, it arguably cost the Democrats the presidential election–or at least greatly diminished their chances at victory–by splitting the Democratic ticket. Ahn eventual dropped out, yielding to Moon. After his failed presidential bid, Ahn ran for a National Assembly seat in Nowon-gu, and won; soon he found himself as the face of a “new politics” in the position of co-chair, alongside long-time assemblyman Kim Han-gil. This marriage of old and new did not bode well for the progressive cause (or the party). Following the July 30 by-election defeats, both Ahn and Kim resigned.

Speaking on the lessons learned from Ahn’s exciting but short-lived foray at the forefront of the political scene, Sohn quotes from none other than Niccoli Machiavelli. The quote (from the tweet above), reads: “In this world there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.” While there is expectations that Ahn will be back (he is still an assemblyman), it is uncertain whether he can excite like he did before.

JTBC reports on the latest idea from Moon Jae-in to excite the base and get more people involved in (progressive) politics. To revive a faltering Democratic Party, Moon suggests they capitalize on the reach of the Internet by using social networking systems to bring more people in. He aims to expand the party’s base and breath new life into the “cartel party,” Moon’s disparaging description of a highly factionalized party.

With an extraordinarily high Internet penetration rate, this is not the worst idea Moon could have come up with. Indeed, it is well documented that Roh Moo-hyun used SNS to mobolize his base and shore up electoral support during his presidential run. Moon, a leading member of the pro-Roh faction, is likely trying something similar. It is hard to imagine, however, how a “network party” can overcome the problems of the internally divided progressives.

New Focus published an article on September 23 in support of criticisms leveled at the Korea Hana Foundation (남북하나재단; lit. North and South One Foundation). According to the report, a significant cohort of the 27,000-strong defector community in South Korea is now pursuing the resignation of the head of the organization, Jeong Ok-im.

According to the article, the root of the conflict stems in part from defector complaints at a recent change to the name of the entity, which was North Korean Refugees Foundation (NKRF; 북한이탈주민지원재단). Korea Hana Foundation, the piece points out, reflects neither the role of the organization nor the mission outlined at its founding. Jeong reportedly refused to meet her critics, setting the stage for public protest.

A brand new report into the case of the Korea Hana Foundation, including news of clashes over comments made online, is coming up soon on Sino-NK.

After days of infighting, Moon Hee-sang was chosen as the NPAD’s interim leader on Friday, September 19, 2014. Moon is not new to politics. He was former President Roh Moo-hyun’s chief of staff from 2003 to 2004 and deputy speaker of the National Assembly from 2008 to 2010 and also, interim leader of the Minju Party in 2012. [Moon should not be confused with new floor leader Woo Yoon-keun, who replaced Park Young-sung. — Editors]

Moon has work cut out for him. The NPAD’s approval rating is at its lowest (20%). Also, the NPAD’s decision to compromise on the Sewol special bill created backlash from the victims’ families. Moon has spoken out against recent party infighting, saying, “What is the point of fighting in a sinking ship?” However, factional feuds within the party are not likely to go away anytime soon. Moon has ensured that all factions are represented within the NPAD’s emergency committee but moderates such as Ahn Cheol-soo and Kim Han-gil were left out. It is unclear whether Moon has enough time to do any substantive work to reinvigorate the party because his term will end early next year as the NPAD have its party convention.

Ahn Cheol-soo, entrepreneur and one half of the former leadership of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy, did not attend a meeting of the party leadership on September 17. However, according to this report from TV Chosun, the former leader is, to coopt the Korean vernacular, working “under the water” (i.e., quietly and out of the public eye) to find a way back into the political limelight.

While one unnamed official told TV Chosun that Ahn’s non-appearance at the party meeting was the result of a private appointment, another, again unnamed, individual said that Ahn has been travelling widely outside Seoul, holding meetings with local party organizers and, it is assumed, broadening his cohort of support within the party organization.

Proving that his work is not yet done, the Huffington Post published an op-ed on October 8 asking whether Ahn can ever recover the political high ground that he briefly occupied when he decided to enter politics in 2011. An opinion poll published on October 6 shows Ahn facing an uphill struggle: he currently lies 6th in the all-party popularity race for the Blue House, behind front runners Kim Moo-seong (conservative) and Park Won-soon (progressive), as well as defeated presidential candidate of the left Moon Jae-in, former Gyeonggi Province governor Kim Mun-soo, and Hyundai billionaire Chung Mong-joon.

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