|Candidates running in the main opposition People Power Party's chairmanship election, including Lee Jun-seok, right, pose before their online debate in Seoul, Tuesday. Yonhap|
By Kang Seung-woo
A generational shift in politics appears to be looming as young politicians are becoming increasingly vocal, refusing to stand in the shadows of high-profile veteran lawmakers.
Political watchers believe that the phenomenon reflects a strong desire for change in Korean politics among voters who are fed up with the old guard.
Lee Jun-seok, a 36-year-old former member of the main opposition People Power Party's Supreme Council who has never won a seat at the National Assembly, has been at the forefront of the new wave and is also the strongest candidate to be the PPP's next leader, according to public opinion polls. He is running against former PPP floor leaders Na Kyung-won and Joo Ho-young. Na is a former four-term lawmaker and Joo is a five-term Assemblyman.
Within the ruling party, Rep. Park Yong-jin of the Democratic Party of Korea (DPK), a two-term lawmaker who is regarded as a leading figure among a younger generation of lawmakers, ranked third in a DPK presidential hopeful poll, released Wednesday. Park, 50, the first ruling party lawmaker to declare his bid for the presidency last month, was even ahead of former Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun, one of the "Big Three" presidential hopefuls that also include Gyeonggi Province Governor Lee Jae-myung and former DPK leader Rep. Lee Nak-yon.
"It is true that an atmosphere for generational change in politics is being created," Hangil Research director and political analyst Hong Hyeong-sik said.
"Such a phenomenon means that voters no longer want to see extreme confrontations between rival parties and self-assertion, both of which are rampant in political circles ― particularly among voters in their 20s and 30s. It can be viewed as their hopes for politicians to work out of their conventional style of politics."
Hong added: "Given that those in their 20s and 30s regard co-existence as being important, they want to witness a different political pattern from the existing system."
Bae Jong-chan, head of Insight K, expressed a similar view, saying that the current situation, sparked by Lee Jun-seok, is a judgment on the old regime in the political circles, in which leading figures play a key role and party leaders' nomination rights are at the center of politics.
"A generational shift in poitics is happening to some extent, but I think that it is more like a call for a frame change in the political arena. In other words, the public wants to see 'different' politics," Bae said, adding that it is not the same as an anticlimactic "new politics," initiated a few years ago by minor opposition People's Party chief Ahn Chul-soo.
Hong said, "Park's strong presence cannot be simply explained by a generational shift, because he is 50 years old, but given that he has often defied the DPK leadership's decisions and stressed political reform, voters want to see a different style of politics."
Analysts concurred that such a phenomenon will not remain as a one-off occurrence.
"Some 700,000 young people become eligible to participate in the election, while 500,000 die in the group of older generations every year; in other words, 1 million voters are replaced per year. In that respect, politicians' appeals to younger voters will continue," Hong said.
Bae said those who will accept calls for political changes could emerge as key voters in next year's presidential election.