The root of the Lee Jun-seok syndrome Choi Hoon The author is the chief editor of the JoongAng Ilbo. Two pioneers of K-pop — Bang Si-hyuk, the 50-year-old creator behind global superstar BTS and founder of Big Hit Entertainment (now known as HYBE), and Park Jin-young, the 51-year-old founder and CEO of JYP — recently appeared on a talk show together. Park recalled the day when he recruited Bang as his assistant at JYP while in their 30s. “When I asked him about working together, he bluntly asked me what I could do for him,” Park said. He found Bang curt and naïve. Others also found Bang strange. When Park lectured him on how to be social, Bang retorted, “How could people with different thoughts be persuaded with the same logic?” Park snapped back, “Why not?” But after some years, Park admitted that good reasoning alone cannot always persuade others. Bang laughed at the episode of his younger days and joked that he then had a tongue that could get him into trouble. “Despite all the cynicism and whining, he got things done,” Park chuckled. If the clueless and unsocial Bang had been stigmatized early on, neither Bang nor BTS could have come this far. The talk of the political town revolves around former People Power Party (PPP) leader Lee Jun-seok and the possibility of his bolting out of the governing party to create his own. The 38-year-old politician must be about Bang’s age during his fearless days at JYP. His rudeness — exuding from ordering PPP veteran Ahn Cheol-soo to be quiet and addressing Ihn Yo-han, the naturalized physician who was recruited to innovate the ailing party, by his English surname “Mr. Linton” — has irked some of the old-school members of the conservative party. But not all are displeased. Even some elders admire the 30-something politician for sticking it out for so long. They say, “If Lee, who had majored in computer science and economics at Harvard University, had been a conventional type, he could have lived comfortably by working in the finance or IT sector instead of enduring the ordeals on the political stage.” Lee had never won an election, but has stayed in the dirty and difficult political field for 12 years. There are still expectations that the atypical guy who experienced the highbrowed Western ways could breathe new air into our politics. The yet-nonexistent new party of Lee — and his former political mentor Yoo Seong-min — enjoys a remarkable support rate of 21.1 percent, overwhelming the 1.8 percent of the Justice Party that holds six seats in the 300-member legislature, according to a recent poll. Watchers are wondering if Lee would risk making a separate party, how many seats the party would win, and which of the two major parties — the PPP or the majority Democratic Party (DP) — would be hurt by the divorce. Some even hope the splinter party could make a difference in the DP-dominated National Assembly. A newbie could provide momentum for dialogue and cooperation in politics. Public disgust and disgruntlement in the two main parties have hit new heights. The two can offer nothing new. The political establishment comes down to two leagues — the democracy movement generation versus law practitioners. Of the DP’s 81 newly elected in the last parliamentary election, 27 percent, or 22 lawmakers, were democracy fighters during their college days, and 10 were student body presidents. In the PPP, 42 first-term lawmakers come from the judiciary or executive branch. The two leagues often have spiteful verbal exchanges. Since they are used to protesting and fighting in courts, they have no experience or skills for dialogue, compromise or concession. The U.S. Congress is 67.4 percent dominated by rookies who had worked in public services or elected posts in the state governments. Of the 535 members of the lower and upper houses, 320, or 59.8 percent, have business backgrounds. Since they worked hard for their living, they can reflect real experiences in lawmaking and public policies. The generational gap has reached a serious level in Korea. Among all lawmakers, just two are in their 20s (0.7 percent), 11 are in their 30s (3.7 percent), and 38 are in their 40s (12.7 percent). Given the vibrant share of the voters — 15.5 percent in their 20s, 15.9 percent in their 30s, and 19 percent in their 40s — the mediocre proportion of younger people in the two main parties is pitiful. In politically advanced countries, younger people can learn the democratic values of dialogue, compromise and mediation, and their political debuts are made mostly early. Bill Clinton joined politics at 28, Barack Obama at 31, David Cameron at 35, Angela Merkel at 36, Emmanuel Macron at 30, and Rishi Sunak at 35. Apart from the exceptional case of Donald Trump, these leaders of the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and France would never have dreamt of deserting their lifelong career to become a president in their 60s. Generational change has been a long-standing issue for both liberals and conservatives. Still, all contemporaries have the responsibility to check themselves so as not to indulge in the vested powers. Lee’s new party may not be the answer. But Korean politics must face the brimming aspiration for new politics. We will closely watch the reforms by the political establishment and the challenge of a new party.

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