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Why former lawmaker is living in Bonghwa

Posted June. 22, 2013 07:44,   


Chung Bong-ju, a former lawmaker of the main opposition Democratic Party and co-host of a popular podcast “Naneun Ggomsuda (I Am a Petty-Minded Creep),” moved to Bonghwa, North Gyeongsang Province in March. After serving a one-year prison term for spreading false information about former President Lee Myung-bak’s financial scandal in the 2007 presidential election, he was released last December. After being deprived of his eligibility for election, he cannot run for an elected post for 10 years unless he is pardoned and reinstated. He explained why he moved to the rural town in a recent interview with an online news medium. In short, he wanted to show that “progressivism can solve the issue of eating and living.” However, it does not mean that he has become a farmer.

It was his ideas that interested me. Chung, who is about to found a cooperative named “Bongbong” around the end of this month, said that he plans to use 200,000 members in his fan club and strong urban networks to create a business model mutually beneficial for both urban consumers and rural producers by helping them make direct transactions. The idea sounded good this far. However, I did not feel about the next part. “If cooperatives have 10,000 members, 100,000 or even one million, what kind of organization can be more powerful than them?” he said. “The Democratic Party should also pay attention to cooperatives. Basically, conservatives attach greater importance to competition than to cooperation, they will have a hard time adapting to cooperatives.”

He was more outspoken during a ceremony marking the fourth anniversary of former President Roh Moo-hyun’s death. “Cooperatives that connects citizens as if weft and warp are the ‘organized power of enlightened citizens’ as championed by former President Roh. Former President Lee Myung-bak enacted (a basic law on cooperatives) last December, having no idea what it would mean. I have created a cooperative in Bonghwa. (Seoul) Mayor Park Won-soon pulled my strings. He proposed that I engage in cooperatives when I had a dinner with him lately. We made a promise.”

In February, the Seoul mayor announced plans to promote cooperatives including measures to support them, saying that he planned to increase the number of cooperatives in Seoul to 8,000 over the next 10 years. Some suspected that he had next year’s local elections in mind. Park rebutted the suspicion, saying that the critics did not understand how cooperatives work. Any group of five or more people can found a cooperative on a voluntary basis. Even the Seoul mayor cannot make as many cooperatives as he wants to or nurture them. Still, he mentioned “8,000 cooperatives,” inviting the suspicion that he would play leading roles in founding cooperatives.

Chung says that he created a cooperative with a clear political intention under a string pulling by and a promise with Park, while the Seoul mayor denies his involvement. It is unclear at this point which of them is right. At least, Chung has made it clear why he founded a cooperative and how he wants to use it.

It may be too early to connect cooperatives with elections. The law regulating cooperatives bans them from being involved in elections. The law will also be revised soon to prohibit lawmakers and members of local councils from gaining membership in cooperatives. However, illegal election campaigns take place because there is no election law. In addition, the law on cooperatives allows the state or public organizations to cooperate with cooperatives’ businesses and provide financial support. I am concerned about possible abuse of the law.

Cooperatives are small living communities that socially underprivileged people to unite to help themselves. As Chung said, the idea fits the left-wing progressives than the right-wing conservatives. If the progressives take advantage of cooperatives, the conservatives would follow suit. If that happens, both the small living communities and the big social community will be marred.