Friday, October 28, 2011

The Other 99 Percent

From today's Hankyoreh:
Independent opposition candidate Park Won-soon won the Seoul mayoral election on October 26 handily, and he's already on the job -- he even took the subway to the office.

This was an off-year election, with the big one coming up next year, and there's good reason to expect that the ruling Grand National Party will take a beating then. President Lee Myung-bak has been running a thoroughly corrupt plutocratic administration, and his GNP has repeatedly been defeated at the polls, so it will be interesting to see how things turn out in 2012. I should see if I can arrange my travel plans so as to be in Korea for one or the other election.

I get the impression that some Koreans, at least, are getting their hopes up too high. Park's support was strongest among what Koreans call the 2030 Generation, today's 20 and 30-year-olds. (The GNP also lost support among voters in their 40s, however.) But I remember all too well how the 2030s' older siblings (the 386 Generation) celebrated the election of Noh Mu-hyeon to the Korean Presidency in 2003. Noh, a very courageous human rights lawyer, had no real political experience, and he was up against international pressure to continue the neoliberal assault on the Korean economy, which he didn't really know how to fight. He quickly disappointed his supporters without appeasing the Korean Right, which continued to hound him even after he left office. I worry that Park Won-soon will disappoint many of his supporters too.

The Hankyoreh is optimistic but skeptical too:

Park pledged that he would run a participatory model of government, installing a city management council under him to this end. It is true that some are worried that the involvement of different forces could leave the city’s administration in chaos. We hope that the new major will show the political skill to create a new model for cooperative governance. Attention is also sure to focus on Park’s actions in discussions on opposition party integration and solidarity in the wake of the by-election. This, too, requires a thoughtful response. Park must be prepared to cooperate equally with the Democratic Party (DP) and with progressive parties like the Democratic Labor Party (DLP).

He also needs to work to build his abilities as a leader. In television debates during the election campaign, he became flustered by questions from the rival candidate that were not especially tough. This may have been because he had little experience with criticisms or attacks over the course of his civic organization activities. The mayor of Seoul occupies a high public office. It is difficult to hear people speaking honestly when you are surrounded by government employees. We hope that Park Won-soon does not lose the readiness to listen he showed during the election, and that he creates opportunities for himself to hear some strong criticism.

This is the ongoing problem with elections as a source of change: the GNP has given Korean ample reason to vote against them, but that doesn't mean that the opposition will come up with effective replacements. The GNP, like the ruling parties in the US, has big money behind them, and the GNP gets along well with international business and political interests. George W. Bush liked Lee Myung-bak much better than his predecessor Kim Dae-jung, and I've seen no indication that Obama likes Lee any less. Mayor Park should prepare himself for the usual storm of abuse and misinformation that any opposition figure, no matter how mild, can expect.