Dear Presidential Candidates of South Korea,
We hope you realize that 2022 is a crucial and pivotal year for your country for many reasons. As you know, South Korea is now facing unprecedented crises both internally and externally. Whoever is elected as the next president will therefore face the challenging task of skillfully navigating the “S.S. Republic of Korea” in a stormy sea, sailing the narrowest of straits between Scylla and Charybdis.
As such, the Korean people expect you to prove that you are a competent, reliable captain who is capable of overcoming these crises, dexterously avoiding dangerous reefs lurking everywhere in South Korea’s perilous passage. Among a myriad of things, here are 10 propositions for you, with which you can prove your worthiness to be the next leader of South Korea. If you satisfy the 10 propositions below, the voters will rest assured and gladly elect you as their new leader.
First, you should prove that you can stitch up the gaping psychological wounds of the Korean people, inflicted by malicious politicians. Currently, Korean society is suffering from an extreme bipolarity between progressives and conservatives, socialists and capitalists, the Leftists and the Rightists. The gap between the young and the old, and the chasm between men and women, especially among Koreans in their 20s, seems unbridgeable as well. As a new leader of South Korea, you will be responsible for bringing about reconciliation and healing the wounds of today’s Korean society.
Second, you should promise to put an end to the populism that has plagued Korean society for the past several years. Populism is “sweet in the mouth, but bitter in the belly,” as the maxim says. Simply look at the once-affluent countries that are now facing bankruptcy due to populism. We all know that populism will ruin the country eventually, even though it is initially alluring. To put it bluntly, therefore, if someone solely depends on populism to gain votes, he may be unfit to lead a country.
Third, you should boost the stagnant market economy and create jobs for the frustrated young people who are deeply disappointed in their society. They despair because they cannot get a job and will not be able to own a home in their lifetime, no matter how hard they may try. You should give them hope.
Fourth, you should show the voters how you would solve the problems of the astronomical real estate prices and housing tax bombs, for which the previous government was responsible. These two problems are making all Koreans miserable regardless of whether they are tenants or homeowners.
Fifth, if your campaign motto is “Anything but Moon,” it is not enough. You should present specific blueprints for the future of Korea, together with a new vision that suits the 21st century. In addition, you should introduce your prospective Cabinet members, so the voters could know what kind of people you would work with during your term. If the people’s assessment of your shadow cabinet is unfavorable, you can reshuffle it before it is too late. By doing so, you can embrace the undecided “swing voters” who are situated in the middle.
Sixth, you should solemnly declare that you would serve the people, not rule them. You should also vow that you would not defy the separation of the three branches of the government.
Seventh, you should reveal to the voters how you would deal with the clashes and conflicts between the US and China, which will affect Korea tremendously. South Korea’s current policy, “National security with the US, and the economy with China” will no longer be possible because the economy is inseparable from national security and politics in the US-China conflict.
Eighth, you should let the people know how you would patch up Korea’s severely damaged relationship with Japan, which would in turn directly affect Korea’s relationship with the US. Besides, many Japanese young people are enjoying K-pop these days, and we cannot let political scuffles ruin cultural diplomacy.
Ninth, you should clarify your political ideology. Do you envision the future of Korea as a socialist country where the government controls everything or as a country of liberal democracy that guarantees individual freedom?
Last but not least, the Koreans want to know what kind of a vision you have for the post-pandemic era, when they will have to accept the so-called “New Normal.” The pandemic has changed so many things and the people have justifiable anxiety about the future. Furthermore, as South Korea has become an advanced country with the 10th largest economy in the world, the people also want to know how you would make South Korea a global leader in the era of AI and the metaverse.
Dear presidential candidates, Election Day is just around the corner. We want you to reveal not only your identities, but also your concrete plans and designs for the future of South Korea as soon as possible, so we can choose the right person as our new leader at this critical juncture.
Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University and a visiting scholar at Dartmouth College. The views expressed here are his own. -- Ed.