Activists-turned-lawmakers-elect steal show
By Kang Hyun-kyung
Among others, a group of lawmakers-elect in their 40s gained the spotlight after they won in the National Assembly elections Wednesday, four years after some of them were crushed in a previous poll.
The elections saw the rise of the former pro-democracy fighters, standing in stark contrast with the results of the elections in 2008.
Those who survived the tough ride include Woo Sang-ho, Lee In-young, Jeong Chung-rae and Ha Tae-kyung. Woo, Lee and Jeong ran in the Seodaemun, Guro and Mapo constituencies in Seoul, respectively, on the main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP) ticket. Ha won the Gijang election in the southeastern port city of Busan on the ruling Saenuri Party ticket.
Woo, former student council leader of Yonsei University, and Lee, a former leader of the radical student group dubbed the National Council of Student Representatives, became second-term lawmakers. The so-called 486 Generation politicians _ those in their 40s who went to university in the 80s and were born in the 60s _ flexed their muscles in the DUP after Han Myeong-sook took over the party leadership.
They are expected to have a greater say in the liberal party as they returned to the legislature as lawmakers, indicating the DUP will seek a tough stance on key initiatives and as a result a clash with the Saenuri Party will be unavoidable.
Unlike Woo and Lee, Ha was elected as a lawmaker for the first time. Before joining politics as a ruling party candidate, the former student activist fought for North Korean human rights conditions from the 1990s.
The 486 lawmaker-elects joining politics has drawn keen attention as their contrasting stances on North Korean human rights conditions are likely to spark an ideological divide in the legislature.
Liberal politicians, such as Lee and Woo, remain silent over the North Korean regime’s human rights abuses of its residents, whereas conservatives, including Ha, are vocal on the issue.
Back in the 1980s when the pro-democracy protests had reached a tipping point, student activists were united to fight against the then authoritarian Chun Doo-hwan government. The general-turned-president took power through a military coup.
The student idealists used communist theories as their ideological weapon, dreaming of a country free of class struggle, and equal opportunities for all socio-economic classes.
They took different career paths after the pro-democracy movement showed signs of waning in the late 1980s after a set of key democracy measures were taken by the then government.
Some of them, including Ha, changed their mind after witnessing the appalling human rights conditions in the “Hermit Kingdom” in the 1990s. Millions of North Korean citizens starved to death after devastating floods and crop shortages pounded the impoverished country. Survivors of prison camps in the North have testified about the ordeals they had undergone.
Ha, a former student activist when attending Seoul National University in the early 1980s, decided to fight for North Koreans crying for help from the outside world. Before joining politics, the 44-year-old served as head of Open Radio for North Korea airing psychological propaganda programs for North Korean residents.
The Saenuri Party politician drew public attention after he alleged some candidates running in the elections on the minor Unified Progressive Party (UPP) were followers of the North Korean regime.
The UPP denied the allegation, claiming the right-wing camp was attempting to fan a red scare ahead of the elections to rally conservative voters.