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586 Generation clings on despite promises to step down

Many still intend to run in local elections despite calls for generational shift

Rep. Song Young-gil, former head of the liberal Democratic Party of Korea, exchanges greeting with Rep. Park Hong-keun, newly appointed floor leader of the liberal party, during a parliamentary meeting held at the National Assembly on March 31. (Joint Press Corps)
Rep. Song Young-gil, former head of the liberal Democratic Party of Korea, exchanges greeting with Rep. Park Hong-keun, newly appointed floor leader of the liberal party, during a parliamentary meeting held at the National Assembly on March 31. (Joint Press Corps)
Despite promising before the presidential election to step aside to allow fresh faces into politics, senior members of the Democratic Party of Korea are announcing bids for key posts in the local elections.

Rep. Song Young-gil, former chief of the liberal party, is gunning for the Seoul mayoral post, while Reps. Cho Jeong-sik and An Min-suk have declared their intentions to run for Gyeonggi Province governor. Other senior party members are weighing options with less than two months left until the local elections.

While they would technically be stepping out of the political arena, critics within and outside the accuse Song and others of bypassing and demeaning the party’s pledge.

The party is concentrating on bouncing back from its defeat in last month’s presidential election, where its candidate Lee Jae-myung lost by 0.73 percentage point.

Many within the party believe the way to do that is to field high-profile candidates, most of whom happen to be veteran liberal politicians. But nominating party heavyweights goes directly against the reform pledges that it made just months ago.

In a press conference in January, then as the leader of the liberal party, Song said that the party would look to have its senior members leave the center stage and let their younger counterparts take key roles. He vowed to ensure that 30 percent of candidates in the June local elections would be in their 20s and 30s.

The five-term lawmaker revealed the party would introduce new bylaws to limit the number of terms its lawmakers can serve for the same constituency to three, adding he would not seek to extend his legislative term in the next legislative election in 2024.

The announcement came as some within the Democratic Party started a movement to drive the so-called "586 Generation" -- those born in the 1960s -- out of the spotlight. The generation accounts for a large portion of the Democratic Party’s leadership and voter base.

"The fact that the voices calling for change in the ruling administration are loud today shows that our efforts (for change and reforms) have fallen short," Song said at the time.

"We weren't apt in solving the escalating social polarity and inequality, and we did not apologize appropriately at the right time on failures of real estate policies and failures over examining people for high-ranking positions."

Yet many of the key candidates touted to represent the party in major district posts are from the 586 Generation, who now face accusations of ignoring their past vows as they announce their bids.

Critics ask Song and others who expressed intent to run in the local elections to stand down and take responsibility for the defeat in the presidential election.They should be reflecting on what missteps they have taken, they say.

"I sincerely ask former Chairman Song -- the Democratic Party really has to reflect (upon its loss)," said Rep. Kim Jong-min of the Democratic Party, who drove the generational shift opinion within the party, in a radio interview Tuesday.

"We really have to spend time not just reflecting on the loss of former presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung and his campaign, but also the campaign strategy of the Democratic Party, the five years of the Moon Jae-in government and even the past 30 years of politics done by the ('586 Generation') members."

Kim emphasized the party has to prove before voters that it is willing to start fresh and get rid of outdated political figures to show its liberal stance and desire to bring needed reforms to the people. The fact that Yoon with no political background won the election means people showed with votes that they no longer trust the Democratic Party in politics.

"If we just reflect on the surface, we fail, and if we truly reflect on our faults, we will succeed," he added. "After bringing these reforms, we will be fine with staging Woo Sang-ho or Park Young-sun as candidates. That’s not important. We need to pick candidates on the foundation of reflection."

By Ko Jun-tae (ko.juntae@heraldcorp.com)
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