Four years ago, it was young people who brought progressive South Korean President Moon Jae-in to power. Today, they are threatening the last year of his non-renewable five-year term, at the risk of bringing the conservative right back to power.
Mr. Moon’s popularity rose to 34% on May 21, after plunging to 29%, its lowest level since his arrival in 2017 at the Blue House, seat of the South Korean presidency. The summit, deemed successful, of May 21 with US President Joe Biden could add a few points. However, we are far from 80% support at the time of his meeting, in September 2018, in Pyongyang, with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.
“One of the main reasons for this drop is the drop in support from people in their twenties”, observes Eom Gyeong-yeong, director of the Zeitgeist Institute, a private center for political analysis. Young South Koreans reject a power which has failed to meet their expectations in the economic field, which no longer convinces on the question of values and which has failed in terms of relations with the North.
This rejection partly explains the heavy defeat of the candidates of the Democratic Party (PD, formation of the president) in the partial local elections of April 7. The majority party lost the capital, Seoul, and the country’s second largest city, Busan.
Democrats fell nearly 30 points among voters in their 20s. This fringe of the electorate says they are disappointed with the way they handle gender issues in a country where the #metoo movement has met with significant resonance. Men in this age group feel they are paying for the mistakes of past generations. The women were disappointed, if not outraged, by their leaders’ praise for the action of former Seoul mayor Park Won-soon, who ended his life in July 2020 after accusations of sexual harassment.
Failure to reduce unemployment
This discontent comes on top of Democrats’ failure to reduce youth unemployment. The government has also not stopped the rise in house prices, by 28% since early 2020.
The Moon administration is, moreover, criticized for the failure of the promise which had contributed to its arrival in power: that of a more just society, after eight years of conservative management completed by the dismissal, in 2016, of the President Park Geun-hye. An exceptional procedure initiated at the end of the “candle revolution”, a massive mobilization aimed at corruption and the abuse of power by the Park administration. Mme Park is currently in prison.
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