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[Opinion] Korea’s Older Lawmakers Are Like Fine Wine

Posted December. 12, 2005 08:20,   


“It might seem, on the surface, that the artificial age-40 requirement for politics is a cutting-edge trend of the times. Looking at it from the inside, however, it is apparent that this condition is an abnormal trend only seen in backward societies. By tying age to political interests, [they] have dealt a blow to political parties; [by attacking others on the grounds of age, they] have undermined the harmony and order of our conservative opposition party.”

This is not a commentary of what is going on nowadays. It is part of the “Sun-Setting Horizon,” the memoir of Yoo Jin-san. It is a lament from an old politician who was ousted by the “40s as the Standard-Bearers” argument of Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung back in the 1970s.

The two Kims, who had dismissed their seniors by emphasizing youth as “cutting-edge sense,” eventually left the political stage as well. Both of them are old men aged around 80 now, who retired after serving as president. What would they be feeling when they now look at the 17th National Assembly full of “standard-bearers” in their 40s?

The Assembly has more members in their 40s than the 16th National Assembly, and the number of 30-something lawmakers doubled in the 17th National Assembly. The average age of members of the 17th National Assembly is 51. Taking into account the ruling party alone, the average age would have reportedly been much younger.

What would the feelings of the two Kims be on the proud rush of younger politicians into the arena: relieved or nervous?

In the ruling party, lawmakers aged 60 and above formed their own group and found out that there were 23 of them. They were reportedly surprised at such a large number of their members. Some suggested naming the group “Phoenix.”

This reminds one of what Chinese author Lin Yutang said: “When the elderly simply lament and scorn the world, they will always set off the rebelliousness of youth.” It seems that now they have belatedly realized the rebelliousness of “386 politics” that have messed up the world.

The quality of politics improves only when the wisdom of the old, the stability of the middle-aged, and the ambition and power of the young are harmonized. Sixty-something assemblymen of the ruling party have experienced the formidability of the public sentiment and the vanity of power. At a time of public unrest stained and ruined by ambition and power of the 386 generation, senior lawmakers should not end up creating a mere club of the elderly for political survival. They should convey the pains and sufferings of the ordinary citizens to the power circle and prevent arrogance, solo dominance and corruption of power. As the saying goes, “A good old man is like good wine.” Korea’s older lawmakers should play the role of “good wine” in politics.

Kim Chung-sik, Editorial writer, skim@donga.com