They, regardless of their parties and places of origins, are claiming that they are the only qualified candidates to make South Korea a better country by resorting to the rhetoric of political slogans, such as peace, fairness, justice and innovation.
In his New Year's address Tuesday, President Moon Jae-in reiterated that his administration will ramp up efforts to make South Korea a fairer country by continuing to push for reform drives aimed at offering better lives for those in lower income brackets.
Ironically, despite all of these slogans and pledges, South Korea has become one of the most divided countries in the world, with polarization deepening in all dimensions of our society ― politics, economy, wealth, gender, etc.
First, the politics of division has been taking hold. Since the Moon administration took office, the country has been experiencing ever-deepening ideological confrontation between the left and the right.
When there is a debate over a certain value or policy, people do not respect various voices in society and instead join forces to attack those in different camps. Simply speaking, there exist no efforts to seek compromise and find middle ground.
Also, the gap between the rich and the poor has been widening despite the government's series of policies to reduce income inequality.
Official statistics showed that irregular workers made an average 1.72 million won ($1,477) per month between June and August, only 54 percent of the 3.16 million won for regular workers.
The income disparity widened to 1.43 million won, the largest ever, up 71,000 won from the same period in 2018. As a result, unconditional hatred toward the wealthy has become prevalent in our society.
Hatred toward the opposite sex is emerging as another serious issue. Both misandry and misogyny are widespread among the public and there has been an increase in gender hate crimes.
For the Moon administration, it might be crucial to maintain policy consistency and pursue the core promises they made in a bid to win supporters in the April election. However, keeping their pledges should not end up dividing the country. It is no more than penny wise and pound foolish.
The values of peace, justice and fairness that Moon and the ruling party are pursuing are important but there is a higher and more significant value to lead the country in the right direction ― "unity in diversity."
For this, the Moon administration needs to take a cue from ASEAN, a regional intergovernmental organization comprising ten Southeast Asian countries ― Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.
The ASEAN member countries are all different in terms of economics, politics and culture but they have managed to find a middle ground to create an integrated community in the region.
"They are different countries and have heterogeneous political systems, cultures and religions but they are getting along well to become prosperous together," a former Korean Ambassador to one of the ASEAN countries said asking not to be named.
"This offers great implications for Korea and Korean people who are deeply divided," he added. "It is not worth pursuing political values at the cost of unity of people. We need to learn from them (ASEAN nations)."
Not only ASEAN but also many other countries are taking "unity in diversity" as a national slogan. They know that they can create a better future only when there is trust and co-operation between different groups of people in a single society.
For example, during his address at the BJP rally at Ramlila Maidan Dec. 22, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, "Unity in diversity is India's specialty."
During his New Year's address, President Moon re-emphasized dialogue with North Korea this year, urging concerted efforts by the two Koreas to create the conditions for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's visit to Seoul.
However, Moon should realize that a top priority should be placed on ensuring "unity in diversity" in South Korea rather than seeking a dialogue with North Korea. Without harmony in our society, any lofty goals and policies will end in a failure.
The writer is finance editor of The Korea Times. He previously served as Asia bureau chief and Singapore correspondent covering the entire ASEAN region.