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Korean zombies

Dec 16,2019
PaRK SHIN-HONG
The author is political news editor of the JoongAng Sunday.

The word “zombie” best describes Korean politics in 2019. The grotesque and horrific supernatural beings that differ from the comical Asian ghosts have become familiar to Koreans after “Kingdom,” the blockbuster hit of Netflix production, aired earlier in the year. What used to be thought of as an American horror genre felt more close to home when the dead were based in the Joseon Dynasty. The 2016 film “Train to Busan,” involving zombie passengers, drew 11 million viewers. As zombies became popular characters on mobile games, they have started invading the political scene as well.

Rep. Pyo Chang-won of the ruling Democratic Party (DP) made the reference in October. He said he would not run in the April general election because he feared “he was turning into one of them. I feel like having been bitten by a zombie. If I could cut off my hand, I might be able to stop further contamination. I could stop myself from turning into a monster like them.”

Rep. Kim Se-yeon of the opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) also announced he would not run again, saying that his party has outlived its life and was a shame to history. “It is a zombie with its life sucked out. We must eliminate the party and start afresh,” he said.

Although the expression could have sounded too harsh, many sympathized privately. One ruling party lawmaker said many members agreed that the National Assembly has turned into a zombie-like establishment. The ruling camp is lethargic, while all the main opposition LKP does is knee-jerk opposition. They are no different from living dead.

The zombie phenomenon can be contagious. Once bitten, any living being can turn into a zombie. The best protection is keeping distance. But who will occupy the representative body if everyone abandons it. We cannot have zombies running Korean politics. Reform-minded figures have declared they would not be running in the coming election. But those who should really be leaving the political stage keep their seats. Why should the good ones always have to sacrifice? Why must voters be left with a bad bunch? There must be some decent members left.

Professional mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter Jung Chan-sung — nicknamed “Korean Zombie” — made his Octagon return in Busan. He is called zombie because he bounces back every time he falls and goes after his opponent. Zombie fighters belong in the ring not in the legislature. Let’s hope to see less of them in our 2020 political community.