(Not) Legislating Morality: #Shigak no. 20

By | March 28, 2015 | No Comments

Screen Shot 2015-03-28 at 3.21.27 PM

From an @mbcnews report on who voted to overturn South Korea’s anti-adultery law (and who did not); a screenshot from @Dest_Pyongyang’s Twitter feed. | Image: Sino-NK

“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 monthly 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. All users of Twitter are encouraged to adopt the hashtag and take part in the project.

(Not) Legislating Morality: #Shigak no. 20

by Sino-NK

Summary | This issue of Shigak highlights key stories and domestic political developments in South Korea between February and March. This means tweets and analysis of anti-Park leaflets scattered by activists; news of Ambassador Lippert’s assailant; a populist airport proposal; missile launches in response to military drills; bureaucratic waste and mismanagement; efforts to stoke the flames of nationalism via flag raising ceremonies; and the momentous striking down of Korea’s anti-adultery law at the fifth attempt.

By-elections are slated for districts of Seoul, Seongnam, Incheon and Gwangju on April 29. These elections will mark Moon Jae-in’s first electoral test since becoming party chair of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD). During the leadership race, which followed a string of poor election performances, Moon promised to create a party capable of winning elections. He chose not to use the controversial “strategic nomination (전략공천)”  process to parachute preferred candidates into the by-election races; instead, the NPAD held primaries for all three ridings.

In the Seoul Gwanak-gu race, ousted United Progressive Party (UPP) lawmaker Lee Sang-gu is running as an independent — Lee’s former UPP colleague Kim Mi-hee is running in Seongnam, a relative stronghold of the hard left. Both are running in the districts they represented in the National Assembly prior to the dissolution of the UPP. NPAD elder statesman (and former Minister of Justice) Chun Jung-bae, who recently left the NPAD, announced his candidacy in the Gwangju race.

The NPAD is projected to do relatively well; certainly, President Park’s low approval ratings favor the opposition party, as does the tendency of voters to use by-elections to send a message to incumbent administrations. However, the opposition remains highly divided, and the presence of former UPP lawmakers on the docket won’t help NPAD candidates unite the progressive vote.

Leaflets of one sort or another have been controversial in South Korea for years. Most of the controversy stems from anti-North Korea activists attempting to float anti-Kim regime leaflets by balloon across the DMZ. However, between February 25 and 28 some South Korean individuals also scattered leaflets attacking President Park. Most featured comical sketches of the president and written criticism of her policies. Dropping the leaflets from tall buildings, the act self-consciously harks back to the 1980s, when the target was the military dictatorship of Chun Doo-hwan.

A group called “People Yearning for Democracy” [민주주의를 염원하는 사람들] took responsibility for the leaflets. In an interview with Hankyoreh, the group says they came together via demonstrations and Social Networking Sites. They claim not to be an organized group and to lack a formal structure (a common characteristic of contemporary social movement groups. Informal power structures are rarely so egalitarian). They admit their tactic of scattering leaflets is an anachronistic method of protesting, but argue that such measure are appropriate because the Park government is reintroducing anachronistic measures to suppress democracy.

South Korean police raided nationalist activist Kim Ki-jong’s office and confiscated about 30 items that could be used to charge Ambassador Mark Lippert’s knife-wielding attacker with “benefiting the enemy (이적성)” under South Korea’s controversial National Security Law (NSL). Among the publications was a copy of Kim Jong-il’s Theory of Cinematic Art [영화예술론].

Possessing North Korean publications, no matter how bland, is cause for suspicion in the South. Aside from investigating whether Kim violated the NSL — he almost certainly did, not least as it is not difficult — the police are also seeking to determine whether there is a link between Kim and the North or any other organization.

Newly elected NPAD chairman Moon Jae-in declared his support for the construction of an international airport to serve Saemangeum, a controversial area of reclaimed land in North Jeolla Province. Moon argued that development of the proposed Saemangeum International Airport must form part of the government’s upcoming fifth national plan for airport development, which falls within the purview of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport [국토교통부]. The fourth such plan, covering the period 2011-2015, is available in Korean here.

Moon made his comments during a meeting of the party leadership at the provincial legislative building in Jeonju, the capital of North Jeolla Province. He argued that the proposed new airport is an essential prerequisite of the region attracting the kind of domestic and international firms envisioned in development planning for the area.

However, Moon’s claim is disputed and came in for attack. Nearby provinces that already have international airports were bound to come out against it, and North Chungcheong, home to the airport at Cheongju, did exactly that. The wider Jeolla region also already houses three airports, at Gwangju, Muan, and Gunsan, the latter of which lies just a few kilometers from the northern end of the Saemangeum seawall. Not one of the three is operating at capacity.

On the other hand, only the airport at Gunsan, which sees two domestic flights to Jeju Island per day, is actually in North Jeolla Province at all. Given that  South Korea’s provinces are meant to (and do) compete energetically for the income that accompanies national infrastructure projects, and with Jeonju expanding rapidly in an attempt to attain “metropolitan city” (광역시) status, it is possible to argue for a new airport for the province, which is one of South Korea’s least developed.

In response to the scheduled joint ROK-US military exercises Foal Eagle and Key Resolve, North Korea conducted two separate sets of missile launches. The first round of two projectiles was launched at the beginning of March, and Kim Jong-un was described in the North Korean media as personally supervising the launch of seven more missiles in the middle of the month. The missiles have a range of just under 500km. The ROK General Staff stated that the missile launches seem to have been a response to the Foal Eagle and Key Resolve exercises, and raised military combat readiness.

For their part, the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army issued a statement declaring that the US and its South Korean “puppet army” were at full combat readiness, and that British, Canadian and French forces (some reports also mention Australian troops) had been mobilized as well. The statement also claimed that the exercises were a rehearsal for nuclear war against the North, and that the North Korean army will not throw “words to the wind” in the event of conflict. Conflict during ROK-US military exercises is an annual constant of inter-Korean relations.

The Constitutional Court struck down South Korea’s adultery law at the fifth attempt, calling it a violation of personal freedom. Passed in 1953, approximately 100,000 people have been charged under the law in its 62-year history, according to JTBC (tweet #1). Only people convicted after October 30, 2008 can now appeal their cases, however, since that was the date of the fourth and most recent Constitutional Court review of the law, in which it was found to be constitutional. The right to appeal affects approximately 3,000 cases.

MBC broke down the decision in an extended TV news report (tweet #2). As the image reveals, the only female judge on the panel, Lee Jeong-mi, and Ahn Chang-ho were the two justices who found existing legislation providing for the punishment of adultery to be constitutional. The two issued their judgments with reference to the dangers that adultery poses to traditional family relations and societal values. Articles such as this one imply that Ahn’s background in public peace and security may have been a factor in his ruling, while this rather breathless one in the Chosun Ilbo implies a degree of residual support for the law in conservative circles.

Meanwhile, on March 28 TV Chosun produced an “analysis” piece explaining how and why anyone striving to acquire direct evidence of adultery runs the risk of violating a number of other laws, and suggesting legally acceptable lines of inquiry for the suspicious spouse.

JTBC reports that some parts of South Korea’s bureaucracy are not very efficiently run. An investigative report finds that many senior-level civil servants who have either returned from posts abroad or come back from probation are not quickly reassigned. In one case, a civil servant in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs remained unassigned for fully 675 days after returning from a post abroad. The individual continued to receive basic pay throughout.

In fact, JTBC finds that over the last 2 years, 120, or 8%, of all senior-level civil servants have found themselves in limbo for a significant period of time. It is unclear whether this represents an informal benefit of seniority or a consequence of poor bureaucratic management. It may also be an outcome of developmental employment decisions over a protracted period of time; systematic under-employment is not uncommon in large South Korean employers, and that includes the state.

According to media coverage, President Park Geun-hye was deeply moved by a scene in the movie “International Market” (국제 시장), wherein a couple immediately halt an intense argument when the Korean flag is shown unfurling on television. Upon watching the movie, Park is said to have commented that patriotism can cause a country to overcome its difficulties. Given the constant recourse to nationalism that characterized much of South Korea’s developmental era, her view is probably not far from the mainstream in her age cohort.

Either way, the South Korean government promptly launched flag-raising campaigns. These mainly targeted March 1, when South Koreans commemorate the “March 1st Movement,” a popular uprising against Japanese colonial rule in 1919. However, plans are also afoot to get citizens to raise flags for August 15, the 70th anniversary of South Korea’s liberation from Japanese rule. It is still common for citizens to raise flags on significant national holidays, but the practice has been in decline in recent years.

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