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, hire 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 getting into South Korean politics in droves after lawmakers this 12 months lowered the minimal age restrict for political workplace to 18 from 25. That led to a file variety of folks below 40 working in native elections in June — 416 candidates, up from 238 in 2018. Among the many 4,131 individuals who received their races, 11 have been below 24 years outdated, together with the youngest election winner within the nation’s historical past, a 19-year-old.

However even earlier than their phrases started on Friday, they encountered issues as outdated as politics itself. They are saying 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 get together officers whose favor they need to curry to face an opportunity.

They need to navigate strict cultural limitations (one’s social standing is decided largely by one’s age) and cope with an older voters that generally dismiss them as “inexperienced” and “gullible,” some complain.

“There may be an expectation that younger folks will contribute to bettering the world, however lots of people elevate issues about our younger age,” mentioned Lee Ja-hyung, 23, who was elected to the meeting in Gyeonggi Province close to Seoul. “They’re involved that our sense of judgment hasn’t been absolutely developed and we is likely to be too simply swayed by folks round us.”

That makes it tougher for the younger hopefuls to obtain the nomination of a significant political get together, which frequently requires them to be personally acquainted with get together officers. Within the conservative Individuals Energy Social gathering, native get together council chairs maintain the ability to appoint a candidate. Within the liberal Democratic Social gathering, candidates should not solely be nominated, but in addition win in primaries to face within the election.

“There was a hard and fast concept that politics is for adults, in keeping with a long-established Confucian tradition,” mentioned Noh Woong-rae, 64, a member of the Nationwide Meeting.

The age restrict for nationwide political candidates is 25 in lots of Asian nations, together with Japan, India, the Philippines and Thailand. In Hong Kong and Singapore, the restrict is 21, and in Taiwan, it’s 23. In america, an individual have to be 30 or older to be a senator and 25 or older to be a consultant. Only some youngsters have been elected to American state legislatures or have run for seats in Metropolis Councils. A handful of nations, together with Germany, permit 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 needed to take away age limits altogether.

The motion to alter the legislation was tied to the student-led democratic protests of 1987. Activists mentioned they needed to dispel the notion that political participation must be reserved for the elite, an concept courting to the navy dictatorship of Park Chung-hee.

The hassle succeeded in levels: The voting age was lowered to 19 in 2005. In 2019, the Nationwide Meeting authorized decreasing it once more, to 18. Then this 12 months, lawmakers lowered the age restrict to run for workplace.

“It’s good to have some expertise or data, however I don’t suppose politics essentially requires an enormous stage of it,” mentioned Park Joo-min, 48, one other assemblyman.

Regardless of the change, Mr. Jung, the 22-year-old elected to the Yangsan metropolis meeting in South Gyeongsang Province, mentioned that chatting with a celebration official to attempt to get nominated “felt like beating my head towards 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 give you 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, mentioned that when it got here to marketing campaign financing, “I used up all of the financial savings that I had collected from an internship I did for a 12 months and from working half time instructing college students. I even took out a mortgage — rates of interest are excessive.”

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 mentioned: “Although I really feel accountable to handle younger folks’s points, I don’t intend to give attention to them. I believe elevating younger folks’s points simply because I’m younger will invite hostility.”

For Cheon Seung-ah, 19, the youngest elected politician, successful got here at a value. She had been nominated by her native get together council’s chair, Kim Hyun-ah, 52, amid a push to get extra younger girls concerned with the Individuals Energy Social gathering. (Many members had been accused of amplifying anti-feminist slogans.)

In an interview, Ms. Cheon had described hopes of increasing enrichment packages for the town’s youngsters and bettering the municipal transit system. Then, after she received, members of her personal get together council, together with some girls who had been vying for a nomination to her seat, launched an assault. In keeping with 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 Workplace.

Prosecutors are additionally investigating dozens of different winners from the June elections. Assaults are widespread towards candidates whose nomination by an area get together council chair performed a giant half of their election victory, like Ms. Cheon. It’s simple to problem their legitimacy as a result of their win is seen as much less democratic. However few of these assaults have formally been accepted as authorized complaints.

Ms. Cheon has denied the declare, saying, “The toughest half was the toll that the assaults took on my psychological well being.”

Ms. Kim has additionally rebutted the suggestion that there was something untoward about her protégé’s title. Underneath the get together’s guidelines, Ms. Kim mentioned, she had the only prerogative to nominate folks to the council and to present them titles. “I’ve no obligation to ask the members of the council for permission or to inform them,” she mentioned.

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

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

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