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Divide must be bridged: elders

Mar 07,2017
Since Oct. 29, tens of millions of people have taken to the streets calling for President Park Geun-hye’s resignation - or calling for her reinstatement to power. Over the past 130 days, the country’s internal division played out peacefully but very publicly.

Academics and former statesmen are wondering what can bring the people together, or at least simmer down the public confrontations.

“The clash between pro and anti-Park protests can be likened to a religious clash that has no room for compromise,” said Kim Hyong-o ,former National Assembly speaker, who blames the ever-intensifying division between the two groups on the political establishment. They are completely unable to alleviate or even mediate what is largely a generational conflict.

“On the surface, the candlelight vigils began because of public outrage at the Choi-gate scandal,” said Choi Jang-jip, a renowned professor of political science at Korea University, referring to the abuse of power scandal involving the president and her confidante Choi Soon-sil, which led to Park’s impeachment. “But if you look deeper into the phenomenon, it is also the outcome of state institutions’ failure to properly represent the socioeconomic demands of the people.” The professor noted that to prevent the people’s frustration from reaching a point of being irreversible, the next president and the National Assembly must reflect on the demands being made and come up with policies reflecting them.

“That is the only way to normalize state affairs,” Choi said, “and recover our representative democracy.”

In a survey of eight politics professors and former statesmen by the JoongAng Ilbo, the respondents, including professor Choi, said the country needed to make progress toward three objectives to recover from the ongoing scandal and the impeachment of Park: socioeconomic reforms to fix a widening wealth gap and jobs for the young; reform the current electoral system; and amend the Constitution, which has been unchanged since 1987.

Kim Meen-jeon, a professor of political science at Kyung Hee University, cited widening economic inequality as the most urgent issue to be addressed.

“What people on the streets share is their demand for Park’s impeachment and recognition of their rights as citizens,” she said. “But the biggest problem facing the country right now is deepening economic inequality. The National Assembly must move fast to produce legislation to address the matter in the March regular session.”

Park Won-ho, who teaches political science at Seoul National University, said the weekly candlelight light vigils have taught voters in their 20s and 30s, who were previously indifferent to the political process, that their voices matter in Korea’s representative democracy, calling the lesson “the achievement of the street rallies.”

It is estimated that an accumulated 15 million people have partaken in candlelight vigils calling for the president to step down since the first rally was held last Oct. 29.

BY JUNG HYO-SIK, KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]