Leaving home in Sanggye-dong and getting off the subway at National Assembly Station, People Power Party’s new chairman Lee Jun-seok took a public rental bike to arrive in the National Assembly’s main building on Sunday morning. The young PPP chairman said in an interview with the Dong-A Ilbo that he will choose what’s more efficient between public transit and a passenger car provided as a benefit to the party’s chairman. Although we may have to wait and see how Lee goes, it is already clear that he differentiated his first steps as the 30-something chairman of the main opposition who has never been elected to the National Assembly from those taken by other political party chairmen.
Lee took completely different steps during the party leadership election campaign. He only had five election campaigners to avoid setting up a campaign office. Without using any election campaign vehicle, the Lee camp traveled to run an election campaign by subway and train. He seldom sent promotional text messages that might have cost him millions of won. Lee adopted an unusual way of carrying out election campaigns without using three elements that are considered required for an election candidate - camp office space, campaign vehicles and promotional text messages.
How an election campaign works is directly correlated to cost in the political arena as politicians see it as inevitable to spend an astronomical amount of money making full use of their aides and supporters and bombarding voters with promotional messages. In particular, election campaigns for party leadership often get highly competitive to win over the heart of all party members as the party chairman has a right to nominate election candidates. It has been an open secret to spend hundreds of millions to billions won performing an election campaign for party leadership. Such a chronic way of election campaign activities has fueled high cost political practices.
Some politicians in the opposition sector degrade Chairman Lee as a naïve newbie to politics. However, he only refused to follow the outdated way that typical election candidates do for victory based on systemic power and capital. His efforts worked out to renovate messaging delivery and agenda-setting according to the up-to-date trends. Thanks to a series of novel attempts, Chairman Lee might have spent as little as 30 million won during the campaign, giving a warning alarm to the politically established.
Both the ruling and the opposition parties should respond to demands of our time for refusal of the old-fashioned costly political cultural practice. Presidential election candidates within the ruling Democratic Party of Korea have in essence started their race based on their newly set camps. It has already been said that large-scale camps and advisory panels are being prepared just as done so far. If things may go this way, concerns may only grow that a measurable amount of money will be wasted during the campaign within the party. Democratic Party Chairman Song Young-gil is supposed to take the upcoming intra-party election campaign for presidential candidacy as an opportunity to revamp the money-wasting political structure. If the ruling party ignores demands for change and renovation arising out of the Lee syndrome, it will only face harsh judgement by voters.
The rise of Lee represents public expectations of a shift in eras beyond a change in generations. The first step of this journey should be taken to clear away the remnants of politics of an earlier time, which has to start by removing the political structure that requires high spending.