Hot or Cold – The False Dilemma of Korean Politics

Kim Young-Oh is hungry but more sad than hungry.

Mr. Kim lost his 16-year-old daughter to the Sewol Ferry disaster and he collapsed from his hunger protest last Friday and has been hospitalized.

Mr. Kim was demanding that a fully independent investigator be assigned to the Sewol case instead of a government-connected prosecutor.  A bill has been proposed but rejected because a government-connected prosecutor is a problem for many because there has been a profound and long-held distrust of the government under the majority Saenuri Party, which has had a troubled history of manipulating events at the expense of the public’s trust.  Because of the reluctance of the ruling party to give such powers over to a non-aligned prosecutor, – citing constitutional problems as being the reason – Mr. Kim decided to fast.

Along with Mr. Kim’s fast, an all too common problem has been demonstrated, once again and that is a major problem of not just Korean politics but of most two-party political systems.

The real problem is a political system that is so degraded that it is suffering under a “false dilemma” – also known as “black-and-white thinking”.  Such an inflexible mindset is best exemplified in a two-party political system, which produces a either-or way of voting.  Due to the bi-polar (black or white) mentality of the political system in South Korea, many Koreans have assumed that:

Mr. Kim is a likely a bad man, that wants money, that failed to be a good parent and is probably a Communist and wants to wrench control of the country from the ruling party

OR . . .

Mr. Kim is a victim of the corruption of the ruling party that controls the government (at this moment) and is a hero that can help end the unjust rule of corrupt conservative politicians.

Actually, Mr. Kim is neither A or B.

There are several aspects to this situation.

Since the Sewol disaster, the NPAD faction and other supposed civic groups have offered their assistance to the parents of the kids that perished from the disaster, using it partly for their political agenda.  According to one parent, many did not want such help from the start:

Another father of a victim said some family members did not want left-wing activists helping them, as it compromised their political neutrality. “Some of us didn’t want to mingle with them, but at that time we were office workers who didn’t know how to speak up for ourselves,” he said. “So I thought we needed their support.” (cite)

The NPAD has also begun a boycott of government, bringing most legislative activity to a halt since this seems to be one of their areas of expertise.

Then there is that HUMONGOUS problem of credibility (sabotaging a prosecutor general, NIS-generated electioneering, etc.) , which the Saenuri-Hanara Dang/Administration has lacked, except in parts of the country where they enjoy an older constituency that vote out of that false dilemma thinking called regionalism.  I had a conversation with a fellow (over 50) in Daegu recently where he said he believed that Mr. Kim was a contemptible fellow, who was holding out for more money. To this self-described Saenuri supporter, it was all about money since there could not possibly be any other reason for Mr. Kim’s fast.

Very black-and-white in Daegu.

Meanwhile, many Koreans, that are against the Saenuri Dang feel that the ruling party does not want a truely independant investigation because of so much corruption tied to the ferry owner and people higher up in the ruling party. The government’s citing constitutional problems as being the reason why independant investigators can not be allowed is seen by many as being a “false choice” or “a deliberate attempt to eliminate several options that may occupy the middle ground on an issue”.

As for Mr. Kim? – he has said that “I have a headache. I have a headache because of politicians in South Korea, . . . We want to find why more than 300 people died unfairly. We want to clarify this and hold a person in charge accountable”.  He does not want money – he wants accountability so that his daughter’s short life and death will not have been in vain.

When there is such a firmly encamped case of the false dilemma, there can be parity only after much struggle since this way of thinking quickly becomes a device of the few that manipulate the many for gain, for example, currently there is an “ice-bucket challenge” that has become a popular way to raise the awareness of Lou Gehrig’s disease – a disease that can strike anyone no matter which political party they belong to.  The challenge is “to promote awareness of the disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and encourage donations to research” . . .
However . . .
Both Rep. Park Jie-won of the opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) and Saenuri Chairman Kim Moo-sung have both taken the challenge not so much to donate money to fighting ALS but as a tool for political means, as per Kim Moo-sung’s statement “Please persuade hawkish lawmakers [within the NPAD] after sorting out your thoughts with some cold water” followed by Park Jie-won’s comment “Though I participated [in the charity event] there are still people gravely concerned over the passage of the Sewol law and who are still waiting for the return of their loved ones. I hope that ice bucket challenge and the Sewol bucket challenge will go together”. 

Photo courtesy of NEWSIS.

I give you a visual example of the false dilemma on ice.

Yoon Yeo-joon also sees all of this as well but, like him, we are left without a ready solution.  IMHO, the change will have to come from the people – without the aid of any current party and in a manner that can not be co-opted.  That will take time and probably something unforeseen.

  • T.K.

    The NPAD has also begun a boycott of government, bringing most legislative activity to a halt since this seems to be one of their areas of expertise.

    Do you also want to talk about how NPAD leadership tried and tried again to find a compromise position between NFP and the victim’s family? About how NPAD’s chairwoman 박영선 went into negotiation twice, with two plans that were increasingly more favorable to the NFP, before the boycott began?

    There is no false dilemma here. On one hand, we have the ruling party that feels secure enough to ignore the demands of the victims’ families. On the other hand, we have the victims’ families, digging in their heels because they are outraged by the NFP’s inaction. NPAD has been the reasonable mediator.

  • RElgin

    Read that link on what a “false dilemma” is please and tell me what you think then.

  • redwhitedude

    It’s sounding a little like the US. Where there is no third option beside Democrat or Republican.

    Or people are stuck in this mentality of zero sum game where if one side gains the other must lose.

  • Tapp

    You could have left the word “Korean” out of the title and it would have been just as accurate. The constant “them vs. us” attitude unfortunately drives votes, though. Nothing brings out the people like a threat against their “basic human rights”… whatever the hell that happens to be this week.

  • Paul Kerry

    Hmm … I’m not sure this is right. Park Young-sun did try to compromise twice, but the first was the bigger compromise. It was accepted by Saenuri, but not by those representing the families, so the NPAD refused to back her on it. Then she made a weaker compromise, which Saenuri also accepted but the same thing happened. Park has been trying to compromise, but others have not.
    I’m not sure it’s a false choice, though. The families absolutely want the counsel to have prosecutor’s powers, the Saenuri Party absolutely do not. Neither are prepared to concede on that specific point. I’m not sure what the other option(s) would be.

  • A Korean

    The families don’t trust the Park administration, so they want special (i.e. independent) prosecutor to investigate the incident.

    Instead, NPAD bargained for bunch of misc. financial inducements for the families.

    Reasonable mediator? Perhaps. Faithful? Don’t think so.

  • RElgin

    IMHO, both parties have turned this into really bad PR. All a third party candidate would need do now is run without acting like an idiot. Ahn really blew his chance because he has no patience.

  • A Korean

    Neither party wanted a special prosecutor with any kind of teeth because both would get exposed.

  • Sumo294

    The Jindo Coast Guard would have been laid wide open to review. There are plenty of reasons why many in the NAPD does not want a special prosecutor.

  • RElgin

    This debacle has exposed just how little leadership there really is in this country other than the usual organized collecting of perks and monies on the sly.

    There should be far more sad and angry ghosts to plague politicians here now.