April 16, 2020 13:38
The general election ended with a landslide victory for the ruling Minjoo Party and its proxy Together Citizens' Party. This is only the second time ever that the ruling party won a clean majority in the 300-seat National Assembly. Minjoo won sweeping victories in its traditional stronghold of South Jeolla Province and in the Seoul metropolitan region.
The coronavirus epidemic gave the ruling party a huge boost as voters felt they must rally behind the government in times of a crisis, while belated surges overseas as infections are going down here also provided a halo effect. The country owes a tremendous debt to private-sector companies that produced coronavirus test kits as well as the sacrifices of medical workers and an effective state health insurance system. The government too deserves credit for overseeing the management of the crisis. But the coronavirus epidemic was not the sole factor that led to the ruling party's victory. The fundamental reason was the disintegration of the opposition camp.
The ruling alliance including the Minjoo Party, Together Citizens' Party, Justice Party and Open Democrats has now secured a combined 180 seats in the National Assembly. That means that it has carte blanche to pursue whatever policies tit sees fit while the opposition has been eviscerated. The incumbent administration now has effective control over provincial governments, the judiciary and now the legislature. A considerable number of Koreans are scared by such concentration of power in unsteady hands.
The incompetence and recklessness of this administration over the last three years was evident in its disastrous "income-led" growth policy, which had the exact opposite effect by weakening competitiveness with a drastic minimum-wage hike that drove many small entrepreneurs out of business. Many small business owners are saying they cannot stay afloat much longer, while one even told the president directly that the state of the economy is "wretched." The coronavirus epidemic could be the final straw. That is why many sober people had hoped that a sound showing for the opposition would send a warning to the government. The government and ruling party must not misinterpret the vote as a resounding support of all its policies, otherwise the country is headed for disaster.
Koreans will not forget the corruption scandals involving the Ulsan mayor and fly-by-night Jusitce Minister Cho Kuk, who was foisted on them despite mass protests because he was a crony of the president's. They clearly remember how the ruling alliance bulldozed through approval late last year of a special corruption unit that effectively blocked Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl from doing his job in those cases.
Not all powerful governments resort to strong-arm tactics. The incumbent administration has gained tremendous power in the latest election and it will enjoy a strong boost in the presidential election two years down the line. It must use that new-found security wisely, listen to the public, and change policies that are clearly not working. The economy stands on shaky ground and the nation is diplomatically isolated. The Moon Jae-in administration will only really become strong if it stops behaving so despotically and grows up.
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