Korean choice in 2012
The year of 2012 will likely bring about significant changes on the Korean Peninsula.
In Korea, general and presidential elections are slated for April 11 and Dec. 19, respectively. Nations with keen interest in the peninsula are likely to see changes in political leadership, too. In Russia, the presidential election will take place on March 4; in China, the General Secretary of the Communist Party will step down in October; in the United States, the presidential election will be held on Nov. 6; and in North Korea, the power transition already took place, just before the dawn of this year.
The outcomes of the above prospective and respective political leadership changes will certainly impact the future of the Korean Peninsula. Particularly, changes within Korean territory would have the strongest influence over the direction of its future.
As this election year begins, many Koreans are wondering what they can do for political evolution within Korean society. They are facing choices; continuing support for conservative policies or restoring confidence in liberal ideas. They are indecisive on whether to continue to support the existing political parties or turn away from them in favor of new entities.
The nation has been tangled in social and political conflict. For almost a decade, the country has been afflicted by the confusion on values and the division of public opinion. Political polarization has continued. Many are exhausted by uncompromising debates over political direction, conservative or liberal; right or left.
During the past few years, tension on the Korean Peninsula has continued, largely due to the lack of communication between the two sides, whoever is to be blamed. In the last couple of years, a series of military provocations by North Korea in the West Sea near the Northern Limit Line have plunged the peninsula into a dangerous state of quasi-war. Uneasiness and anxiety over the unstable security situation has prevailed in the minds of many Korean people.
The continuing world financial crisis has adversely altered our incumbent President’s pledge for economic growth in Korea. The global economic shock did not just hit the country temporarily but fundamentally weakened its growth potential, according to the Hyundai Research Institute. Disparity in income and a feeling of relative poverty has fermented public anger on the distribution of welfare. Many feel that they belong to the 99 percent. Discontent over income disparity and a feeling of economic injustice dominates the thinking of those with a lower income. Divisive discussion over welfare proposition has confused the nation.
The incompetency of political leaders in dealing with domestic issues has frustrated the concerned public. National Assembly representatives have also failed to satisfy their supporters. Endless confrontation between the ruling and opposition parties on many national issues has disillusioned voters. The lack of a sound political process has turned away voters from their traditional support.
To make matters worse, many representatives have lost public confidence after being involved in certain irregularities. Voters are tired of hearing news accounts of wrongdoings committed by those close to political leadership. Outcries against them and an outburst of rage on their disappointing execution of duties as representatives have been heard for some time.
Amid growing disaffection with traditional politics, the ruling party has decided to change its name for the first time since its establishment in 1997. Without displaying genuine determination for a real and concrete political reform, the name change is merely cosmetic and could be viewed simply as political charades.
As to the nature of politics, a few decades ago, a U.S. president, under impeachment pressure from Congress commented, ``Politics is a dirty trick.” Politics is like war without the bloodshed. The battle is becoming more bruising than ever. Politics has been uncivil.
There seems to be a general consensus on the need for massive change in the current political system in Korea: changes in campaign rules and financing, changes in the selection process of political candidates and changes in the party platform are a few examples. As to the qualifications of presidential and legislative candidates, the general public expects leaders who possess the ability to take the nation to a promised prosperity. The people of Korea will prefer political leaders who can inspire all to live each day with purpose and joy; leaders with clear vision; and leaders who are rational, future oriented and global minded.
With two scheduled elections this year, Korean voters are looking for candidates whose messages resonate powerfully and motivate us to believe in ourselves. The nation needs political leaders who can inspire people with pledges of revolutionary change and new hope. It’s about time for ``change” and ``hope.” The political choices Koreans make in 2012 will be pivotal in determining the direction of the Korean future.
The writer is a chair professor of the Catholic University of Daegu. He previously headed the Foreign News Division of the Korea Overseas Information Service. His email address is email@example.com.