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70-Year-Old Man

Posted December. 24, 2009 08:13,   


“It’s okay for people in their 60s and 70s not to vote.” This comment made in 2004 by Rep. Chung Dong-young, who lost to Lee Myung-bak in the 2007 presidential election, got Chung in trouble. As chairman of the then ruling Uri Party five years ago, he made this comment ahead of the general elections, sparking public anger against him. Organizations representing the elderly blasted him, with one saying, “Why we should resign after overcoming the Korean War and creating the country’s economic miracle?” Chung’s party saw its approval rating go into freefall before recovering only after he stepped down as a co-chair of the party’s election campaign and a proportional representation candidate.

“An arraignment indicts former Prime Minister Han Myeong-sook based solely on allegations made by a 70-year-old man (Kwak Young-wook), who has no evidence or witnesses and has given inconsistent testimony.” This statement was issued by Han’s side after prosecutors booked her without arrest on the charge of taking 50,000 U.S. dollars from Kwak, former CEO of Korea Express. This hints that a 70-year-old man’s claim is untrustworthy, and could rekindle controversy over disparaging comments against senior citizens. A court will rule whether Han took the money, but another question is why the previous government appointed a 70-year-old man to head a state-run company in the first place.

Kim Hyo-seong, 68, a chair professor at Seokyeong University, says he has had little interest in whether Han is guilty or not, but is angry over the comment about a 70-year-old person. People lose physical stamina as they age but each person has different health conditions. Some retain good insight, sense of judgment, and a great memory well into their 80s and 90s. The average life expectancy in Korea has risen and the country is increasingly embracing an aging society. The world has ushered in an era of gerontocracy in which senior citizens can remain active in politics, economy and society.

Kang Dong-seok, 71, the chairman of the Expo 2012 Yeosu organizing committee who attended the fateful 2006 meeting with Han and Kwak, is also a senior citizen. If the statement of the “joint committee on countermeasures to dismantle the political plot against Han Myeong-sook” is justified, it is possible to interpret the statement as suggesting that the country was swayed by the inconsistent and untrustworthy comments of an elderly man. Born in 1944, Han will turn 70 in about five years, so neither she nor her aides should make reckless comments about the elderly. Political rivals can fight over a guilty or not-guilty verdict in this case based on legal grounds and evidence. But none should make disparaging comments about the elderly.

Editorial Writer Kim Sun-deok (yuri@donga.com)