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Empathy-lacking ruling bloc

President Moon Jae-in consoles a bereaved family member of a 1980 Gwangju pro-democracy movement victim during a ceremony commemorating the movement at the May 18th National Cemetery, Gwangju, in this May 18, 2017 photo. Yonhap
President Moon Jae-in consoles a bereaved family member of a 1980 Gwangju pro-democracy movement victim during a ceremony commemorating the movement at the May 18th National Cemetery, Gwangju, in this May 18, 2017 photo. Yonhap

By Kim Rahn

Having empathy for the people was the strongest point for President Moon Jae-in.

Compared to his predecessor Park Geun-hye who was notorious for lacking empathy and the ability to communicate with the people, Moon showed a folksy attitude before and after being elected and promised to become a president who communicated with the people.

The former human rights lawyer stood by victims of tragedies, such as the Sewol ferry disaster, and his Democratic Party of Korea (DPK), when it was the main opposition party, used to urge the Park administration to listen to public opinion.

A clear demonstration of Moon's empathy was shown in a ceremony commemorating May 18 Gwangju pro-democracy movement in 2017, right after his election. He walked toward the daughter of one of the victims and gave her a hug after she finished an emotional speech on how she lost her father in the suppression of the movement.

Such scenes were enough to make people believe the new administration and the DPK would really understand the hardships of ordinary people, and thus enact policies benefiting them rather than ones for the elite.

Three years after his inauguration, however, not many people seem to have retained this belief and it seems some even feel a sense of betrayal.

It's not because government policies do not benefit them; rather it is because ruling bloc figures make remarks showing they do not understand at all why the people are against the policies.

The most recent public uproar was about real estate policy, which, against the government's wishes, has caused housing prices to rise and makes it hard for ordinary people to own a home.

The government's latest housing policy aimed to protect tenants paying "jeonse," a uniquely Korean real estate practice in which the renter pays the landlord a large sum of money as a returnable deposit. However, concerns raised that landlords would not lease homes using the system anymore but instead change toward charging monthly rent.

In response to the concerns, Rep. Yoon Joon-byeong of the DPK wrote on Facebook, Aug. 1, that advanced countries with high levels of income do not have such a practice of jeonse, and that people wanting jeonse have an outdated mindset. "We'll have a period when everybody will live paying monthly rent (instead of jeonse). It is not a bad tendency," he wrote.

This post immediately drew harsh criticism from the public, who said tenants would be unable to save money under monthly rent system and thus would become poorer.

As the criticism mounted, Yoon added he himself was living in a rental house in Jeongeup, North Jeolla Province, which is his constituency. But he was found to own two homes in Seoul.

Yoon's comment added fuel to the already negative public sentiment, which was caused by the fact many senior presidential aides owned multiple homes, going against the administration's policy goal to prevent speculative home buying. It is little wonder such policymakers do not understand what influence their policies will have on ordinary people whose wish is to have at least one home during their lifetime.

When former Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon committed suicide after sexual harassment allegations were made against him in July, DPK leaders first refused to call the woman a "victim," saying "calling Park a perpetrator and the woman a victim would defame Park posthumously."

When young jobseekers criticized Incheon International Airport Corp.'s plan to directly hire subcontracted security workers and improve their working conditions, DPK members said the young people were angry because conservative media spread "fake news" about the plan, while the anger resulted from an issue of "fairness" in the hiring process.

Government policies cannot satisfy every citizen and they are often insufficient to resolve social problems. In such cases, what the ruling bloc needs to do is to assure the people that it understands their hardships and will try better to resolve the problems. But the current ruling bloc neither has such an attitude, nor does it understand at all what is making the people angry. It regards even reasonable criticism as a "political attack," just passing the buck onto "fake news."

High expectation would result in high disappointment. When his term ends in May 2022, Moon may be reviewed as being worse than Park in terms of lacking empathy and communication, if the ruling bloc remains as it is now.


President Moon Jae-in consoles a bereaved family member of a 1980 Gwangju pro-democracy movement victim during a ceremony commemorating the movement at the May 18th National Cemetery, Gwangju, in this May 18, 2017 photo. Yonhap
President Moon Jae-in consoles a bereaved family member of a 1980 Gwangju pro-democracy movement victim during a ceremony commemorating the movement at the May 18th National Cemetery, Gwangju, in this May 18, 2017 photo. Yonhap

By Kim Rahn

Having empathy for the people was the strongest point for President Moon Jae-in.

Compared to his predecessor Park Geun-hye who was notorious for lacking empathy and the ability to communicate with the people, Moon showed a folksy attitude before and after being elected and promised to become a president who communicated with the people.

The former human rights lawyer stood by victims of tragedies, such as the Sewol ferry disaster, and his Democratic Party of Korea (DPK), when it was the main opposition party, used to urge the Park administration to listen to public opinion.

A clear demonstration of Moon's empathy was shown in a ceremony commemorating May 18 Gwangju pro-democracy movement in 2017, right after his election. He walked toward the daughter of one of the victims and gave her a hug after she finished an emotional speech on how she lost her father in the suppression of the movement.

Such scenes were enough to make people believe the new administration and the DPK would really understand the hardships of ordinary people, and thus enact policies benefiting them rather than ones for the elite.

Three years after his inauguration, however, not many people seem to have retained this belief and it seems some even feel a sense of betrayal.

It's not because government policies do not benefit them; rather it is because ruling bloc figures make remarks showing they do not understand at all why the people are against the policies.

The most recent public uproar was about real estate policy, which, against the government's wishes, has caused housing prices to rise and makes it hard for ordinary people to own a home.

The government's latest housing policy aimed to protect tenants paying "jeonse," a uniquely Korean real estate practice in which the renter pays the landlord a large sum of money as a returnable deposit. However, concerns raised that landlords would not lease homes using the system anymore but instead change toward charging monthly rent.

In response to the concerns, Rep. Yoon Joon-byeong of the DPK wrote on Facebook, Aug. 1, that advanced countries with high levels of income do not have such a practice of jeonse, and that people wanting jeonse have an outdated mindset. "We'll have a period when everybody will live paying monthly rent (instead of jeonse). It is not a bad tendency," he wrote.

This post immediately drew harsh criticism from the public, who said tenants would be unable to save money under monthly rent system and thus would become poorer.

As the criticism mounted, Yoon added he himself was living in a rental house in Jeongeup, North Jeolla Province, which is his constituency. But he was found to own two homes in Seoul.

Yoon's comment added fuel to the already negative public sentiment, which was caused by the fact many senior presidential aides owned multiple homes, going against the administration's policy goal to prevent speculative home buying. It is little wonder such policymakers do not understand what influence their policies will have on ordinary people whose wish is to have at least one home during their lifetime.

When former Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon committed suicide after sexual harassment allegations were made against him in July, DPK leaders first refused to call the woman a "victim," saying "calling Park a perpetrator and the woman a victim would defame Park posthumously."

When young jobseekers criticized Incheon International Airport Corp.'s plan to directly hire subcontracted security workers and improve their working conditions, DPK members said the young people were angry because conservative media spread "fake news" about the plan, while the anger resulted from an issue of "fairness" in the hiring process.

Government policies cannot satisfy every citizen and they are often insufficient to resolve social problems. In such cases, what the ruling bloc needs to do is to assure the people that it understands their hardships and will try better to resolve the problems. But the current ruling bloc neither has such an attitude, nor does it understand at all what is making the people angry. It regards even reasonable criticism as a "political attack," just passing the buck onto "fake news."

High expectation would result in high disappointment. When his term ends in May 2022, Moon may be reviewed as being worse than Park in terms of lacking empathy and communication, if the ruling bloc remains as it is now.


Kim Rahn rahnita@koreatimes.co.kr


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