Landslide victory heralds arrival of ‘2030 generation’

Posted on : 2011-10-28 10:22 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
As voters in their 20s and 30s demonstrate voting power, observers say parties must shift toward change
 Oct. 26.
(Photo by Kim Jung-hyo)
Oct. 26. (Photo by Kim Jung-hyo)

By Lee Ji-eun, Staff Writer and Lee Seung-jun 


The “2030 generation” has arrived as a leading force for changes in the political sector. It was a wave of votes by voters in their 20s and 30s that was largely responsible for putting Park Won-soon into office as mayor of Seoul. What was an array of factors that sent them to the voting booths?

A number of the people in their 20s and 30s that the Hankyoreh met around downtown Seoul on Thursday showed antipathy toward the ruling Grand National Party (GNP).

“This election is sure to have an effect on next year’s general and presidential elections,” said Han Seong-min, a 30-year-old from Gangseo District who was eating at a kimchi stew restaurant on Jongno 5-ga Road.

“In order for the GNP to not secure victory, it had to be Park Won-soon now.”

Many talked about GNP candidate Na Kyung-won’s skin care clinic with a 100 million won ($90,610) membership fee.

“I cannot understand how Na Kyung-won could have spent more than 50 million won on gas over two years,” said a 24-year-old economics student named Kim, who was interviewed in front of the Yonsei University student union. “The same goes for the skin care clinic.”

“She certainly seems to represent a minority among a minority in South Korea,” Kim added.

The name of Seoul National University Graduate School of Convergence Science and Technology Dean Ahn Cheol-soo was frequently mentioned. Kim So-yeon, a 28-year-old from Mapo District, said, “Would any of the people who supported Ahn Cheol-soo really have voted for Na Kyung-won?”

“Ahn Cheol-soo definitely had an impact,” Kim added.

Jeong Chan-man, a 33-year-old retail industry worker, said, “From seeing Park Won-soon developing a civic organization like the Beautiful Foundation, I felt I could expect him to guide Seoul along a desirable path.”

What was the reason behind this active shift from the 2030 generation toward expressions of political will? Analysts said that while the progressive leanings of “486 generation” members in their 40s originated with the experience of the democracy movement of the 1980s, the 2030 generation was driven to a state of crisis over the course of neoliberalist policies and polarization since the foreign exchange crisis.

Yu Chang-o, author of “The Progressive Generation Rules,” said, “The makeup of the recent generation, which is based in economic interests, is fundamentally distinct from the generational conflicts of the past, which stemmed from cultural and emotional differences.”

“Today, generation is class,” Yu added.

The argument is that a spirit of resistance has been bred among younger people who have had to endure murderously high tuition rates, youth unemployment, and enormous key money deposit costs in a society that has polarized beyond the “20% vs. 80%” level to a “1% vs. 99%” level.

“Nothing changed while the Grand National Party held the Seoul mayorship,” said 31-year-old company employee Park Jong-ho. “The middle class has evaporated.”

“My main desire in voting this time was that it not be the GNP,” Park added.

Members of the generation are developing both an identity and a spirit of political participation through social network services as a means of communication. A 29-year-old university student named Im said, “SNS plays a kind of instigator role.”

Another university student named Kim, 24, said, “There were a lot of ‘come on and vote’ messages on my friends’ Facebook pages and on Kakao Talk.”

“I had always thought of politics as people fighting in the National Assembly, and I think I became interested in it as I felt more and more discontent with things like tuition and employment,” Kim said.

The daring “evidence shots” and Kakao Talk conversations from the voting booths in the face of National Election Commission (NEC) restrictions also show another characteristic of the generation: its vivacious expressions of opinion.

The generation’s desire to participate is evidenced by rising voting rates and support for opposition candidates. Younger people seem to be heading to the booths with the expectation that a change in governments will mean a change in the situation they face. Support rates for Park Won-soon were 69.3% among voters in their 20s and fully 75.8% among voters in their 30s.

With politicians taking note of the generation’s transformation, some observers are commenting on the need to come up with a solution to the crisis plaguing party politics.

Yu Chang-o said, “The reason the 2030 generation went wild for Ahn Cheol-soo is that he fitted with their ever-changing political leanings and was seen as someone who could reflect their interests and meet their demands.”

But Yu also cautioned, “Given that the South Korean political situation always comes down to two parties, these demands will only be resolved when all democracy proponents and progressives come together as one.”

SungKongHoe University Professor Chung Hae-koo said, “With big elections coming up next year, all politicians now have to give consideration to welfare and livelihood policies for younger people.”

“For the parties, change is unavoidable,” Chung added.


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