Young Conservatives Step into the Limelight

  • By Shin Dong-heun

    July 19, 2018 12:02

    Young conservatives are coming out of hiding and are increasingly speaking their minds on topics ranging from welfare to national security.

    They meet regularly in defiance of a largely progressive mood to discuss all the ways they believe the country is going down the drain -- from what they see as exorbitant public spending compared to other countries to the sore lack of young political leaders.

    While they do not exactly come from every walk of life, they range from thrusting young white-collar workers to university students, with the odd candidate who ran for office during the recent local elections thrown in.

    Jung Hyun-ho (31) leads the group of young conservatives that aspires to become a force to reckon with. "Our goal is to become self-sufficient by the time the general election in 2020 comes around," he said.

    Kang Won-taek at Seoul National University said, "Young people who had been unable to find a political group they can support ideologically have started launching their own."

    Park Gyol (33) heads a committee that wants to launch a new conservative party. "I don't know if we can say that a party that allows a candidate to pitch free meals for students simply to win votes can call itself conservative," he said, alluding to one election pitch by the established Liberty Korea Party.

    "We need to put more stress on conservative values like small government and market economics."

    Park recently registered the party with the National Election Commission and has started a six-month drive to set up five regional chapters with at least 1,000 members each.

    Meanwhile the Seoul National University Truth Forum, a students' union launched in February of last year, has now grown into a bigger grouping called "Truth Alliance" of around 700 students at 60 universities across the country.

    Universities are traditionally bastions of progressive politics, but the forum is quite different. Its leader Kim Eun-koo is somewhat advanced in years for a young Turk at 40 and is pursuing a PhD in law. But he still believes he is ahead of his younger fellow students in their nostalgic attachment to leftwing student activism.

    "The political activism dating back to the 1980s constitutes the foundation of university culture these days, so we want to spread our views as well. Universities also need to give a home to differing political views."

    There is certainly evidence that young Koreans buck the global trend toward liberal and identity politics. A survey of 1,000 adults last month by the Asan Institute for Policy Studies showed that 58.4 percent of Koreans in their 20s are against ending joint U.S.-Korean military drills, the highest proportion in any age group.

    A survey gauging support for an inter-Korean team during the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang showed that 82 percent of respondents in their 20s and 30s were against it, which suggests a clearer eye than some of their parents' about what North Korea stands for.

    These young people are the children of the so-called "586 generation" who fought for democracy against South Korea's endlessly corrupt military regimes in their university days. In their own way they are rebelling against their parents, and many of them are alarmed at the leftward shift of public opinion after the mass protests that ousted President Park Geun-hye.

    Park Gyol said, "Many people who were born during Korea's economic heyday are opposed to leftwing politics, but the existing conservative parties have failed to attract their support."

    Ahn Byung-jin at Kyunghee University says there has been no culture in Korea of youngsters in suits and clean haircuts going into politics at college and climbing the political ladder, like former U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron or U.S. House Representative Paul Ryan. "We need to nurture conservative young Koreans to come up with new political solutions," he said.

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