Urban dwellers remain skeptical of ruling party
By Kang Hyun-kyung
Lim Mi-seon, 44, used to be one of the millions of supporters of Lee Myung-bak when he ran in the presidential election in 2007 on the Grand National Party (now the Saenuri Party) ticket.
Years after Lee’s landslide victory in the presidential race, Lim, who runs a childcare center in Gimpo, about a 40 minute drive from downtown Seoul, is skeptical about the ruling party as her business has been hit hard by the bad economy. She and others in suburbia are described as swing voters.
Lim, also a mother of three, said she is now looking at the credentials of hopefuls for the presidential election, now eight months away.
She said she would probably vote for Ahn Cheol-soo if he decides to run.
Falling birthrates and job instability, the negative fallout of the bad economy, are behind her skepticism of presidential contenders in the ruling camp, including Rep. Park Geun-hye.
Lim’s business has waned over the past decade as birthrates have fallen sharply.
“It is hard to find pre-schoolers near my place as double-income couples forgo children for monetary reasons or young people avoid marriage as many of them have precarious jobs,” she said.
Driven by job instability and the bad economy, class sizes at her childcare center have become smaller year after year, causing her to see a dwindling income.
Lim said her friends, who run hagwon providing piano, painting lessons and teaching martial arts, have suffered as well after President Lee was sworn in.
She pointed the finger at Lee’s emphasis on English education in his early years in office as a source of her friends’ plight, saying it drove some hagwon out of business. “The English boom prompted parents here to make a choice among afterschool programs because of time conflicts and financial constraints. Some parents diverted their budget for piano lessons or martial arts into English programs,” Lim said.
The 44-year-old is in one of the age brackets that have become a fresh headache for Park Geun-hye in her presidential ambition as people in their 20s, 30s and 40s show signs of turning their back on the ruling party.
These people are said to be the victims of jobless growth and flexible labor market in the wake of the Asian financial crisis that hit the economy in the late 1990s.
The ruling Saenuri Party said it would strengthen communication with these voters, acknowledging that winning their hearts and minds was key to winning the presidential election in December.
It appears to be an uphill battle for the conservative party to appeal to voters as they are discontent about problems that are hardly likely to be fixed in a short period of time, such as the worsening labor market.
Choi Suk-joo, a dermatologist in Seoul, said he voted for the main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP) in last week’s National Assembly elections.
The 32-year-old said he cast his vote for the liberal party as he believed it would play a role in deterring the ruling party from pushing its agenda in the legislature.
Choi said he was skeptical about the Lee government as the widening gap between high- and low-income earners has not narrowed.
Lee Jun-seo, a college student, said the economy has shown few signs of improving and the ethics of many of President Lee’s aides are questionable, adding this made him sick and tired of the conservative party.
The 27-year-old also voted for the DUP in last Wednesday’s election.