[Documents menu] Documents menu

From newsdesk@igc.apc.org Fri May 26 06:48:33 2000
Date: Wed, 19 Apr 2000 22:32:59 -0500 (CDT)
From: IGC News Desk <newsdesk@igc.apc.org>
Subject: POLITICS-SOUTH KOREA: Kim Gets Wake-Up Call from Electorate
Article: 94140
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

Kim Gets Wake-Up Call from Electorate

By Ahn Mi-Young, IPS, 18 April 2000

SEOUL, Apr 18 (IPS)—Locked in a heavy-traffic jam in downtown Pusan, a taxi driver started to grumble. See why there is such a mess here?, he asks, pointing at a subway under construction. The subway was supposed to be completed at the end of 1999, but has dragged after DJ took office.

Ask an ordinary South Korean and one is likely to get the sense that the delay in the operation of the subway, along with many other problems facing the country is all the fault of President Kim Dae-Jung, referred to as DJ by many.

Although credited by the international community for steering the country out of its worst crisis in decades and putting the economy back on track by pushing unpopular decisions that left many people jobless, the reformist president is getting little recognition for it from his own people.

The results of last week’s parliamentary elections in fact show that whatever his administration has so far achieved has been overshadowed by concerns over job losses, graft and corruption and other domestic issues.

The April 13 elections were billed as a referendum of Kim’s government, which assumed power in 1998, and whose term ends in 2003. Despite predictions, Kim’s Millennium Democratic Party (MDP) failed to gain the majority while the opposition Grand National Party won more seats.

The grassroots grumbling against President Kim’s government is loudest in the country’s second largest city of Pusan, known as the world’s footwear mecca in the 1960s through the 1970s as it hosted thousands of factories churning out name brands ’Nike’ and ’Reebok’. It later lost much of its share in the footwear manufacturing market with the emergence of China, where labour is much cheaper.

Pusan, an opposition stronghold, was among the hardest hit by the economic crisis and so it was no surprise that it delivered the vote for the opposition.

Talk about the ’noveau riche’ in Seoul, who have gained instant wealth through the stock market are making people in Pusan and the entire southeast Yongnam region even more isolated and bitter.

Here kids in Pusan seldom think of buying some 150,000-won (136 U.S. dollars) ’Nike’ footwear, said a big dealer in Pusan. Many kids have fathers at home still looking for jobs after losing them in 1998.

Pusan economy has turned bad because of the DJ regime, fumed Kim Woo-Chull, 53, who runs a car service centre in Pusan. You know how it was when the factory of Samsung Motor was forced to close down, throwing tens of of thousands of house heads out of work. He said: For me, it is not a matter of hometown loyalty but a matter of survival, if I voted for the main opposition party.

Last July, tens of thousands of laid off workers who were subcontracting for Samsung Motor gathered in front of the Pusan rail station, protesting the Kim government’s decision to shut down the factory, which was their lifeline.

Then, former president Kim Young Sam, Kim Dae Jung’s arch-rival, sent a message to the crowd of jobless men and women. The government’s decision of liquidating the Samsung Motor must be a ploy to kill the Pusan economy.

Setting up a Samsung car manufacturing plant in Pusan in 1994 was a decision of Kim Young-Sam, which sat well with the local population. Later, it proved to be an economically incorrect move as the operation of the facility resulted in an over-capacity.

By early 1998, Kim Dae-Jung ordered its shutdown, dealing a blow to the already staggering Pusan economy, as some 60,000 famly heads working in its components factories were thrown out of work.

For the workers, it was a result of politics, rather than economics, accusing Kim Dae Jung of not favouring Pusan because he was not from the southeastern region.

Bowing to pressure, Kim allowed the factory’s partial operation last October, and production resumed but at a much lower scale. Though some got their jobs back, many more remain unemployed and they registered their indignation in last week’s election.

So although he is praised internationally as being a reformer who deserves credit for the amazingly fast turnaround of the South Korean economy, President Kim got instead a wake up call from his countrymen.

The tepid support given President Kim Dae-Jung’s ruling party in last Thursday’s general election as well as the victory of many first timers should be read as a sign that people are clamouring for change, say observers.

And although voting patterns show that regional loyalties were still quite strong, the campaign by civic groups for the electorate to reject 86 candidates who are tainted with corruption introduced an element of reform.

And the gambit paid off as about 70 per cent of those in the list of ’undesirable candidates’ lost in the election.

Meanwhile, central province Chungchong-do is being singled out for the maturity demonstrated by its voters when it rebelled against so-called blind balloting in favour of the United Liberal Democrats. Instead it gave a balanced allotment to the three major parties.

I want Chungchong to be a model for other regions to follow in the next general election in 2004, said university student Kim Chull-Soo.