Young Politicians Seek Change, but Face Hurdles as Old as Politics

SEOUL — Jung Seong-hoon, 22, shared the frustrations of younger South Koreans a bleak future: Jobs are scarce, lease is excessive, and debt is climbing. So final month, he ran for a spot on his native metropolis legislature and received.

Mr. Jung exemplifies the younger blood coming into South Korean politics in droves after lawmakers this yr lowered the minimal age restrict for political workplace to 18 from 25. That led to a report variety of individuals below 40 working in native elections in June — 416 candidates, up from 238 in 2018. Among the 4,131 individuals who received their races, 11 had been below 24 years previous, together with the youngest election winner within the nation’s historical past, a 19-year-old.

But even earlier than their phrases started on Friday, they encountered issues as previous as politics itself. They say they face a political ecosystem dominated by politicians of their 50s and 60s who’re out of contact, a prohibitively excessive bar for fund-raising and an opaque community of celebration officers whose favor they need to curry to face an opportunity.

They should navigate strict cultural limitations (one’s social standing is set largely by one’s age) and take care of an older voters that generally dismiss them as “inexperienced” and “gullible,” some complain.

“There is an expectation that young people will contribute to bettering the world, but a lot of people raise concerns about our young age,” stated Lee Ja-hyung, 23, who was elected to the meeting in Gyeonggi Province close to Seoul. “They’re concerned that our sense of judgment hasn’t been fully developed and we might be too easily swayed by people around us.”

That makes it more durable for the younger hopefuls to obtain the nomination of a serious political celebration, which regularly requires them to be personally acquainted with celebration officers. In the conservative People Power Party, native celebration council chairs maintain the ability to appoint a candidate. In the liberal Democratic Party, candidates should not solely be nominated, but additionally win in primaries to face within the election.

“There was a fixed idea that politics is for adults, according to a long-established Confucian culture,” stated Noh Woong-rae, 64, a member of the National Assembly.

The age restrict for nationwide political candidates is 25 in lots of Asian international locations, together with Japan, India, the Philippines and Thailand. In Hong Kong and Singapore, the restrict is 21, and in Taiwan, it’s 23. In the United States, an individual should be 30 or older to be a senator and 25 or older to be a consultant. Only a number of youngsters have been elected to American state legislatures or have run for seats in City Councils. A handful of nations, together with Germany, enable 18-year-olds to run for a nationwide legislative chamber.

In South Korea, Mr. Noh was among the many lawmakers who campaigned to decrease the minimal age restrict for candidates, arguing that the candidacy age ought to match the voting age, which had been 20 since 1960. Others wished to take away age limits altogether.

The motion to alter the regulation was tied to the student-led democratic protests of 1987. Activists stated they wished to dispel the notion that political participation must be reserved for the elite, an thought relationship to the army dictatorship of Park Chung-hee.

The effort succeeded in levels: The voting age was lowered to 19 in 2005. In 2019, the National Assembly authorized reducing it once more, to 18. Then this yr, lawmakers lowered the age restrict to run for workplace.

“It’s nice to have some experience or knowledge, but I don’t think politics necessarily requires a huge level of it,” stated Park Joo-min, 48, one other assemblyman.

Despite the change, Mr. Jung, the 22-year-old elected to the Yangsan metropolis meeting in South Gyeongsang Province, stated that talking to a celebration official to attempt to get nominated “felt like beating my head against the wall.” (He campaigned on a promise to assist strengthen the town’s transportation infrastructure.)

Fund-raising can be particularly difficult, with some candidates saying they needed to provide you with about 20 million South Korean received (about $15,400) to run profitable campaigns.

Lee Yechan, 22, who was elected to the Yeongdeungpo-gu district meeting in Seoul, stated that when it got here to marketing campaign financing, “I used up all the savings that I had collected from an internship I did for a year and from working part time teaching students. I even took out a loan — interest rates are high.”

Drawn to politics by a mixture of idealism and conviction that they may assist steer the nation in a greater course, some discover themselves confronting trade-offs.

On the eve of taking workplace, Mr. Jung stated: “Though I feel responsible to address young people’s issues, I don’t intend to focus on them. I think raising young people’s issues just because I’m young will invite hostility.”

For Cheon Seung-ah, 19, the youngest elected politician, successful got here at a worth. She had been nominated by her native celebration council’s chair, Kim Hyun-ah, 52, amid a push to get extra younger ladies concerned with the People Power Party. (Many members had been accused of amplifying anti-feminist slogans.)

In an interview, Ms. Cheon had described hopes of increasing enrichment applications for the town’s youngsters and enhancing the municipal transit system. Then, after she received, members of her personal celebration council, together with some ladies who had been vying for a nomination to her seat, launched an assault. According to a criticism signed by six members of the council, she had claimed on her résumé a nonexistent title on the council’s younger grownup committee.

The criticism was accepted by the Seoul Central District Prosecutors Office.

Prosecutors are additionally investigating dozens of different winners from the June elections. Attacks are frequent in opposition to candidates whose nomination by a neighborhood celebration council chair performed a giant half of their election victory, like Ms. Cheon. It is straightforward to problem their legitimacy as a result of their win is seen as much less democratic. But few of these assaults have formally been accepted as authorized complaints.

Ms. Cheon has denied the declare, saying, “The hardest part was the toll that the attacks took on my mental health.”

Ms. Kim has additionally rebutted the suggestion that there was something untoward about her protégé’s title. Under the celebration’s guidelines, Ms. Kim stated, she had the only prerogative to nominate individuals to the council and to offer them titles. “I have no obligation to ask the members of the council for permission or to notify them,” she stated.

One of Ms. Cheon’s challengers, Lee Kang-hwan, who was the council’s deputy chair, stated in an interview that he had give up upon studying that she was the nominee. He additionally stated he had hoped she would resign.

On Friday, Ms. Cheon started her time period as the youngest metropolis assemblywoman in Goyang. As of Monday, the prosecutors had assigned a police division to research her case.

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