observations after the election

observations after the election

The 2024 general election was an “epic fail” for President Yoon and the ruling party.

No surprises, but still huge because the timing was still on the early half of Yoon government’s term, and it won the local election two years ago.

As I have said before, elections this early tend to be an easy win for a ruling party: a President would have an ample lot of cards in his or her sleeves; party members won’t dare to stand against him. You can tell the voters that we all don’t want chaos for the rest of the term, and help this poor President build a better country for all. Many voters will gladly do that for you if you ask nicely.

Well, there’s something really special about a guy who tried a bar exam for nine years, I learned.

The next three years will be long.

Winners and losers

Also long enough for those in the Minjoo Party who don’t want Lee Jae-myung to run for president again to brace up.

Contrary to what some say, I don’t believe Lee’s hold on the party is that strong. All the fuss that followed by Lee’s allocation of candidacy tickets indicate the so-called pro-Lee친명(親明) group is little more than a club of opportunists, thus they would flee in disarray in any time when their leader falls into danger, or there’s a bigger fish in sight.

Mr Lee has been fighting three legal fronts. Though I’m not an expert, I don’t think he will manage to get across the legal minefield intact.

And speaking of a bigger fish, Cho ‘Luke Skywalker‘ Kuk made a spectacular comeback into the political scene.

He is much popular, not to mention handsomer, than Mr Lee among the Minjoo progressives, and he will definitely be the one who hogs the limelight with a couple of shuriken bills, calling for special prosecutors for the First Lady and Han Dong-hoon, as soon as the new parliamentary session opens.

[In Emperor Palpatine’s voice] But the old Skywalker’s days are numbered. As Mr Lee is, Mr Cho is in the middle of an uphill legal battle, and the final verdict will be handed out much sooner than Mr Lee’s cases.

(gotta say, that was the lamest comment I have ever read about the election)

Even after serving his terms—in jail, to be clear—he will be barred from running for office for additional five years. Will he be still popular then? I am not sure.

The first one to emerge among the rest would be Kim Bu-gyeom, who co-chaired the campaign with Mr Lee. He’s decent, moderate guy with the right pedigree, having joined heads together with Roh Moo-hyun and Moon Jae-in from the earliest days. (Pedigree is very important to these guys, just like their brethren in the North.) Plus, he was the first Minjoo lawmaker who was elected in Daegu—political home of Park Geun-hye—after bitter defeats.

The pro-Moon group largely soldiered on with the campaign amid Mr Lee’s purge in appointing party’s candidates. As the battle is over and won, they would like to take back what’s theirs. Mr Kim would provide a very good anchor for them.

However, the biggest winner of this election hails from conservatives, but not from the ruling party. With a surprising victory, Lee Jun-seok set foot in Yeouido at last, and this will be the beginning of something much bigger.

One underappreciated fact about Mr Lee is that he’s the longest survivor among the so-called youth politicians since the dawn of the century. He entered politics in 2011 after Park Geun-hye recruited him, and had failed all his three bids for Yeouido—which earned him a nickname “minus-three-term veteran마이너스 3선 중진.”

Many of his peers were considered disposable, at best, after serving a single term as proportional representatives. Worse, they ended up as little more than props for optics. They just come and go: have you ever wondered where Park Ji-hyun, former Minjoo interim leader who also made it on the BBC 100 Women 2022, is now? (She actually ran this year, but couldn’t make it past a primary.)

There is no survival of the fittest; those who survive are fit. Mr Lee, above all, survived for more than a decade and became the first youth politician who starts his first term in a local constituency. (On the opposite end stands Yong Hye-in, who bartered her party’s allegiance to Minjoo for her seat for the second time in a row.)

He has a handsome CV (Koreans love Harvard!) and now he’s got a great story of from setbacks to success. With one or two more terms plus mayoral/gubernatorial experience, he will be well-poised to be Korea’s future president.

Of course he needs to change. His famous idea of “generational besiegement세대포위론,” encircling Minjoo-supporting Gen X/late Boomers with MZs and early Boomers, neglects one key demographic fact: Gen X and late Boomers have the lion’s share of the population. Antagonizing female voters may work for a fringe party, but not for a major party (he has to find his way back into the PPP at the end of the day).

Are Han Dong-hoon‘s days over? Not yet, but probably soon. Messrs Yoon and Han have shown prosecutors, especially straight outta their office, make awful politicians. But there’s no one better right now.

Which brings us to…

Talent crisis in politics

Conservatives are in a deep crisis: they don’t know what to do to win voters over. Like an imprudent heir, they used to be rich but now they squandered the fortune. More than anything, however, they don’t have people. They have been sterile, so they had to foster a chief prosecutor who just quit, and send him right away to their bid to presidency.

South Korean political parties are institutionally weak. In particular, they don’t have a good reproduction system for talents. Many decently paid party positions are filled with those who have a good connection. Even a few who persevered often get neglected by party leadership when an election comes, favoring well-known faces in the name of “strategic recruit.” Talented young people could find much better chances in other career paths.

In consequence, the quality of party youth members drops. Having met many youth members of Korean political parties across the political spectrum, I can tell you they are not very good.

Conservatives were the first to face its consequence, having to borrow their presidential candidate from somewhere else. Progressives, one generation younger in general, have a relatively larger pool of talents—mostly under the student activist bracket, but it will deplete sooner or later.

Parties should find institutionalized ways to recruit and nurture politically ambitious young people. In these days, the most surefire way to get elected as a lawmaker would be get a rent-seeking license and then get famous by frequently appearing on pro-Minjoo YouTube channels.

This election has seen 60 lawyers elected, the highest number ever. It may be neither good nor bad in itself, but I don’t see a brighter future for the democracy from it.

Partisan media’s novel development

The rise of social media has seen a drastic change in how politics interact with the media around the globe. Korea won’t be the only country in which the media—based on social media in particular—is gradually seeking a more active role in the field.

What if Tucker Carlson runs his own pollster, repeatedly releasing results at odds with all other pollsters by a significant margin? Kim Ou-joon is your man.

Like Nietzsche’s abyss, polls not only reflect voters but also affect them. Mr Kim has seen it, too. After watching Lee Jae-myung defeated by a 0.73%p margin in 2022, Mr Kim argued voters were being “gaslighted” by polls (commissioned by biased media) and announced that he will set up a “thoroughly independent” pollster. By being independent, he meant not receiving commissions from the media, political parties. Instead, he would be running polls only for his subscribers, who mostly are ardent Minjoo supporters.

Being independent is many things in these days.

In Kim’s polls, Minjoo has never lost the high ground to the ruling party in party support ratings for more than a year, while Gallup Korea, which is considered to be the best, reported otherwise.

However, it ran a lot of polls. A hell of a lot. For this election, it ran about 400 polls while the second most active pollster, Gallup, did about 150. The sheer number of its polls meant they were frequently quoted by the media, “gaslighting” the voters in effect.

So how do they stand against the election results? One opinion poll expert says, “without a single exception, the Minjoo Party candidates were overestimated in all its polls. In seven constituencies, where the predicted winners were reversed, the Minjoo Party candidates were incorrectly projected to win in all its polls.”

While the alt media is full of politically ambitious careerists who are ready to kiss anybody’s ass, Mr Kim is on a whole different level: he scries the black box of public opinion for the benefit of (their) people. I can give him that.

Why bother running for office when you can control all of them behind your microphone?