In the April 15 parliamentary elections, President Moon Jae-in’s Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) captured an overwhelming majority of the National Assembly (180 of 300 seats). This historically unprecedented feat in South Korea reminds us that, to borrow a phrase, “Timing is everything in politics.”
Last year, Moon was mired in low approval ratings (in the low 40s), because of South Korea’s economic slowdown and various political scandals, especially those tied to his former Justice Minister Cho Kuk. A couple of months ago, in the early stages of the novel coronavirus outbreak, Moon was criticized for not banning travelers from China, against the advice of the Korean Medical Association. Since mid-March, however, South Korea’s mainstream media have effusively praised the Moon administration for leading, and winning, the battle against COVID-19.
But Korean public attitudes may shift again later this year, if other countries recover and adapt more quickly to the post-COVID economy. South Korea’s economy was the leading political issue before COVID-19, and it shall rise to the top again as the pandemic eases. If the economy does not recover by the next presidential election (May 22, 2022), critics will again blame Moon and the DPK’s policies — sharply raising the minimum wage, limiting workers to a 52-hour week, phasing out nuclear power, as well as (informally) boycotting Japan-related goods, services, and travel.
In contrast to COVID-19, critics claim, the Moon administration’s approach to economics and foreign affairs has not been guided by experts in line with the global mainstream, but by a left-wing, nationalist ideology designed to rectify the accumulated injustices of (allegedly) pro-Japanese, pro-capitalist elites. The Moon administration, emboldened by its legislative majority, may further its leftist-nationalist agenda, including enforcing the 2018 Supreme Court ruling expropriating Japanese company assets to compensate colonial-era laborers. Unless Moon follows in the footsteps of Germany’s Gerhard Schröder and shifts to pragmatic and pro-market policies, South Korea may experience continued bilateral tensions and economic stagnation.
Conversely, the 2020 elections will help unify opponents of the ruling DPK and potentially open up the major rightist United Future Party (UFP) to new leaders and ideas. The elections wiped out the center-right Party for People’s Livelihoods (PPL, Minsaengdang), formerly the minor party alternative for politicians who defected from the major rightist party (then called Saenuri) over former President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment. With PPL’s demise, anti-DPK politicians have little choice but to rejoin the UFP. With their own electoral setback — nearly all of UFP’s senior leaders lost their competitive Seoul races — the UFP will be more open to former defectors, such as 2017 presidential candidate Yoo Seong-min.
Although South Korea’s immediate political future will be determined by the ruling DPK, its long-term politics may be impacted more by what happens with the conservative opposition. Sustained electoral defeats potentially open up opposition parties to alternative ideas, movements, and leaders that may, over time, generate new majority coalitions. In the United States, for example, for nearly half a century (1932 to 1980), the Republican Party (GOP) was dominated by the Democrats, both in electoral politics (especially control of the U.S. Congress) and in the cultural realm of ideas. Activists and intellectuals outside of the GOP leadership focused on building a grassroots, conservative movement and counterculture. By 1980, the conservative movement helped create a new governing majority behind Ronald Reagan.
The COVID-19 pandemic overshadowed South Korea’s ideological divisions, but they remain deep and growing. The DPK’s ambitious campaign to remake South Korea’s domestic institutions and foreign relations is a continuing earthquake that unsettles various social groups, from UFP mainstays (e.g., older anti-communists) to relative newcomers. The latter group includes prosecutors, who oppose Moon’s proposal to reduce their investigatory powers (e.g., former prosecutor and newly elected Assembly member Kim Woong); North Korean defectors alarmed by Moon’s North Korea policies (e.g., former North Korean ambassador and newly elected Assembly member Thae Yong-ho); and free-market liberals opposed to increasing government regulations (e.g., Korea Hayek Society).
The group with potentially the most radical cultural and political impact are self-described post-nationalist classic liberals, who reject South Korea’s ingrained, anti-Japanese nationalism – for example, fans of the highly controversial 2019 best seller Anti-Japan Tribalism (edited by former Seoul National economics professor Lee Young-hoon), which sold more than a hundred thousand copies in Korea and double that in Japan. Emerging “new right” or “post-nationalist right” groups, such as the intercollegiate Truth Forum, have endorsed Lee’s book and promote a South Korean identity based not on ethno-nationalism but on universal values of individual freedom, free markets, and religious-based (especially Judeo-Christian) morality (i.e., “markets and moralism”). They oppose the nationalist and anti-Japanese historiography taught in schools and promote a “liberal-democratic” alliance of South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan. On October 3, 2019, South Korea’s first-ever CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) conference, partly organized by Truth Forum, brought together like-minded conservatives from the United States, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and South Korea, including senior UFP leaders and the Hawaii-based One Korea Network.
April 15’s overwhelming victory by the DPK does not guarantee future results. Opportunities and pitfalls lie in front of both the major ruling and opposition parties. Like “anti-Trumpers” in the United States, anti-Moon partisans, whatever their various viewpoints, share a strong goal to defeat the president’s party in the next presidential election. As a result, the major opposition UFP is experiencing an influx of new ideas and activists that may, in the long term, fundamentally reshape South Korean culture and politics.
On a closing note, April 15, 2020 also marked the 31-year anniversary of the Tiananmen Square democracy protests in China, which started April 15, 1989. (Back then, the first author was an idealistic high school senior, who helped deliver a petition of support, signed by more than a hundred classmates, to the Chinese consulate in Los Angeles.) Many of those Chinese protesters were inspired by South Korea’s June 1987 Democracy movement. Every free election in South Korea celebrates democracy and hopefully encourages all those struggling for liberty in their countries.
Joseph Yi is an associate professor of Political Science at Hanyang University (Seoul).
Wondong Lee is a Ph.D. student in Political Science at the University of California, Irvine.
This article was supported by Hanyang University Research Fund.
Northern Ireland after coronavirus: three scenarios for politics and peace – The Conversation UK
When it comes to disruptions from outside, the Northern Ireland conflict has a reputation for being immune to them. Winston Churchill observed this after the first world war, in one of the most quoted remarks on Irish politics:
… as the deluge subsides and the waters fall short we see the dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone emerging once again. The integrity of their quarrel is one of the few institutions that has been unaltered in the cataclysm which has swept the world.
A century later, the “integrity of their quarrel”, for the most part, remains. That said, external developments like the US civil rights campaign, the end of the cold war and the EU have influenced events in the region.
So far, the coronavirus pandemic has interacted with Northern Ireland politics in some intriguing ways. At the beginning of the crisis in mid-March, the cross-community executive became split on whether to follow Dublin’s lead in immediately closing schools or stick with the UK’s more relaxed approach.
Yet since then, the first and deputy first ministers, Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill, have maintained a mostly united front. This has been in contrast with the three years before January 2020, when their parties wouldn’t work together, leaving Northern Ireland without devolution. The mere sight of Northern Ireland’s provincial politicians, schooled in the tribal minutia of a nationalist conflict, battling a global natural disaster has been arresting.
North-south co-operation has also been in the spotlight. This is a key part of the Good Friday Agreement. While Belfast and Dublin agreed they would share information on the virus, deficiencies in coordination have been exposed.
Another feature of the crisis in Northern Ireland has been the outpouring of support for the NHS from across society. Remarkably, murals praising this (British) institution have appeared in both unionist and nationalist areas.
Does any of this matter? When the deluge of COVID-19 subsides, there are three possible scenarios. The first is, of course, that there won’t be any long-term consequences of the pandemic and that political life picks up mostly where it left off.
However, the pandemic could, on the other hand, worsen divisions. Stormont now has its own roadmap out of lockdown, which is different to those of both London and Dublin. This has cross-community support but there is still plenty of room for unionists and nationalists to split over virus policy.
Anger at the Conservative government’s handling of the crisis, and the prominence of the devolved administrations, could hasten the end of the UK, with all the tumult that would bring to Northern Ireland. Paramilitary murders and threats have continued during the shutdown. And the dreary steeples of Brexit have never been fully out of view.
A chance to change
But a third possibility – and narrowly, the most likely – is that the virus, overall, has a stabilising influence. It could put political identity politics into perspective.
While COVID-19 is an external shock, it has shone a light on existing social realities: inequality; challenges in education; the quality of people’s environment, lifestyle and relationships; and above all, the health service. Public interest in these issues may increase over Orange-Green politics.
As the success of the non-aligned Alliance Party and Greens in the 2019 election showed, this process was already under way. Before the crisis, the main parties knew that the current period of devolution could be the last chance they get to show the public that they can govern effectively. The socio-economic damage of the shutdown may stimulate bold, unprecedented policy solutions.
Irish republicans have argued that the pandemic, which respects no borders, proves the illogic of partition on a small island. But pandemics, we hope, will not be something Ireland or any country has to face often. And the problem of differing strategies between neighbouring countries is not unique to Ireland, but has been felt across Britain and Europe. The crisis may actually slow the momentum of the Irish unity discussion, which had been given so much oxygen by Brexit, especially given the looming financial pressures.
When the dust settles, Northern Ireland could have a stable executive focused on everyday politics in the north, pragmatically aligned with Dublin or London or Brussels on particular issues. In other words, the region could find itself closer to the vision of the Good Friday Agreement than it has been for some years.
What is beyond doubt is that sectarianism, Northern Ireland’s local brand of social distancing, offers no protection from an infectious disease. Whatever its legacy, COVID-19’s indiscrimination proves that the physical space is in fact a shared one. Those who live in that space share the same fate, no matter the imagined national communities to which they purport to belong.
Politics – Moe must continue to remember his roots – Yorkton This Week
More so than just about any business you can think of, politics is all about knowing whom you are and where you have come from.
The problem, however, is that it’s quite easy to forget all that, even under normal circumstances.
And with the stakes so high in this COVID-19 crisis, it’s likely even harder for our leadership to remember the fundamentals of this province.
As such, Premier Scott Moe had some mixed results in being able to do so.
There is one area in which Moe has been rather successful in remembering where he has come from and reminding all of us in Saskatchewan of exactly who we are.
The Premier recently wrote: “Hats off to our farmer for perseverance and hard work this season” to congratulate that seeding was at the five-year for this date.
In a world where nothing seems normal – Saskatchewan lost a staggering 53,000 jobs in April – agriculture saw a 1.4-per-cent increase in employment in April as seeding got into full swing.
It’s done so without receiving anything resembling the federal subsidies other business are getting. So far, only $252 million has been made available to farmers across the country to deal with effect of COVID-19 – very little of which has made its way to western farmers and ranchers. Moreover, it’s only one-tenth of what the Canadian Federation of Agriculture requested.
Yet farmers are demonstrating what Moe aptly described as “perseverance” in carrying on with seeding that will be an estimated 37 million acres this year. Some of them have had to leave last year’s crop in the field because of horrific harvest conditions last fall.
Agriculture is simply soldiering on, pumping millions into the local economy as farmers buy seed, fertilizers, chemicals and fuel.
The net result is that Saskatchewan has seen an increase in exports in the first quarter of 2020, largely due to canola, pulse, agricultural machinery, oats and soya beans sales.
It is important for Moe and others to acknowledge what we are – especially, in these tough times when the impact of the pandemic is taking its toll on all of us.
However, Moe and his government hasn’t always been quite so successful at remembering its roots, as was demonstrated by the recent Saskatchewan Health Authority driven decision to temporary close to 12 rural hospital emergency rooms as part of the SHA’s pandemic readiness plan.
One gets the need to prepare health staff everywhere in the province for the potential impact of a COVID-19 outbreak.
But the simply fact of the matter is there has been no more than one active COVID-19 case in all of central and southern rural Saskatchewan for a month. To even “temporarily” completely close rural ERs during seeding poses a very real problem.
That it comes from a government that represents all 29 rural seats is even more bizarre.
It took a letter from 21-year Arm River-Watrous MLA Greg Brkich to the SHA and to his own cabinet before the Sask. Party administration seemed to realize this.
In his letter, Brkich expressed frustration over the temporary closure of the Davidson Hospital ER – the only hospital between Regina, Saskatoon, Moose Jaw and Outlook.
“Local folks are being short changed again in rural Saskatchewan” by being left without quality emergency care, Brkich wrote.
Given the history of the closure of 52 rural hospitals by the former NDP government 27 years ago, it’s especially strange that the Sask. Party government would have missed the significance of what it was doing.
To his credit, Moe took responsibility for the “communication” problem and offered assurances the closed ERs would be re-opened in mid-June.
But it does seem to demonstrate how important it is for politicians to remember where they come from.
Murray Mandryk has been covering provincial politics since 1983.
Politics This Morning: Parliamentary group calls for creation of special Hong Kong envoy – The Hill Times
Good Thursday morning,
A handful of Parliamentarians from Canada, New Zealand, and the U.K. have banded together to call on their governments to establish a special envoy for Hong Kong to address the situation in Hong Kong, where a new national security law from China that bypasses the city’s legislature is expected to come into effect this fall. Liberal MP Michael Levitt, the Canadian representative of the group, issued a press release saying “we must move rapidly to ensure there is a system in place for the observation and transparent reporting of the true impact this new law will have on currently legal freedoms in Hong Kong.” The group sent letters to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and UN Secretary General António Guterres, appealing to them for their support in providing a mandate for an envoy to be deployed when the special session convenes later this month.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said that foreign detractors who are raising alarm over the new law are applying “blatant double standards.” She argued that China within its rights to introduce the law because of the local resistance.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, in a press briefing, said the some 300,000 Canadians living abroad in Hong Kong are “very, very welcome to come home anytime.” She was asked whether the government is considering following the U.K.’s lead in pledging to admit three million people from Hong, making what he called would be one of the “biggest changes” to the country’s visa system. Ms. Freeland declined to say whether it’s being considered, only noting that “Canada continues to be a country that welcomes immigrants and asylum seekers from around the world.”
A joint Canada-U.S. study found that hydroxychloroquine—the drug frequently touted by U.S. President Donald Trump as a preventative medication for COVID-19—is ineffective at inoculating one’s self from contracting the virus. Mr. Trump had made the claims about its effectiveness without scientific basis, saying that he was taking the drug himself.
Canada’s Supreme Court is ready to make the switch to virtual hearings amid the pandemic. Starting next week, the top court will be conducting hearings over Zoom.
All four police officers at the scene where George Floyd died now face charges for their alleged role in his death. The lesser charges include aiding and abetting, while Derek Chauvin, the white officer who was first charged, is now facing second-degree murder, which was upgraded from third-degree murder.
Former Conservative cabinet minister Stockwell Day stepped down from his post as a board member of Telus amid outcry over his comments equating racism with getting teased for wearing glasses during an interview with CBC. The telecom giant issued a statement distancing itself from Mr. Day, saying his views “are not reflective of the values and beliefs of our organization.” In a tweet, retreating from his remarks the previous day, Mr. Day said, “by feedback from many in the Black and other communities I realize my comments in debate on Power and Politics were insensitive and hurtful.I ask forgiveness for wrongly equating my experience to theirs.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is scheduled to deliver remarks during the virtual Global Vaccine Summit, which the U.K. is hosting. The summit kicks off at 8 a.m.
In other scheduled events, the House Affairs and Procedure Committee is scheduled to meet at 11 a.m. to hear from former Speaker Bill Blaikie and former acting clerk Marc Bosc, among others. The House Finance Committee, meanwhile, is scheduled to meet at 3 p.m. to hear from a range of witnesses, including Genome Canada and the Colleges and Institutes Canada.
The Human Resources Committee, meanwhile, will meet at 4 p.m. to hear from groups such as the Canadian Women’s Foundation and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada.
The Hill Times
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