Seoul | This week’s general election in South Korea is expected to feature a new breed of angry young voter, millennials frustrated with record-high unemployment and widening inequality in career prospects. The April 13 ballot for the 300-seat national assembly has been touted as a referendum on the economic policies of the ruling conservative Saenuri Party, and President Park Geun-Hye who has less than two years left of her single five-year term. Polls suggest the Saenuri, popular with older voters, will retain the simple parliamentary majority it won in 2012, especially with rifts between opposition parties threatening to split the liberal vote.
But surveys also point to a possible new variable made up of members of what has become known as the three-no generation no job, no home and no marriage prospects. Growth in Asia’s fourth-largest economy has stuttered in recent years, in line with a global slowdown and increasing competition in key export markets. As cash-strapped businesses have scaled down or stopped hiring altogether, the jobless rate for those under 30 has reached a record high of 12.5 per cent – compared to a national average of 4.9 per cent. There is so much anger in us right now, said Kim Min-Jun, a 24-year-old college senior in Seoul.
Kim said most of his friends at the elite Sogang University had become automatically jobless upon graduation, with many applying for 40-50 jobs with no success. For those lucky enough to find work, buying a home in the capital Seoul – where most of the decent jobs are – is largely a pipe dream given the surge in property prices in recent years. With interest rates at a record low, household debt on a national level now stands at an unprecedented USD1.0 trillion.
For now, voting seems to be the only way left to draw politicians’ attention to this grim reality, said Kim. Many say the April 13 should be a judgement day for the ruling party for making our society and our lives so miserable, he added. A recent poll by Gallup Korea showed that 17 per cent of voters under 30 supported Saenuri, with nearly 40 per cent for the different liberal opposition parties.
Others have yet to decide, but there is a new determination to cast ballots among an age segment that is not particularly known for turning out on polling day. In 2012, only about 40 per cent of young people voted, well below the national average of 54 per cent and the 68 per cent turnout among those aged over 60. But answering a recent official election committee survey, more than 55 per cent of young voters said they would definitely vote in Wednesday’s election, compared to 36 percent a year ago.