x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Twitter generation may hand election win for South Korea's liberals

South Korea’s liberal opposition, bolstered by those younger than 40 and the power of social media, could spring a surprise win in this week’s parliamentary elections despite opinion polls that show it tied with the ruling conservatives.

SEOUL // South Korea’s liberal opposition, bolstered by those younger than 40 and the power of social media, could spring a surprise win in this week’s parliamentary elections despite opinion polls that show it tied with the ruling conservatives.

Experts say traditional pollsters base their projections on owners of fixed telephone lines, whereas people in their 20s and 30s, who form 37 per cent of the voting population in the world’s most wired country, rarely use them.

The young, more likely to carry one of the latest smartphones in their pocket, are mostly liberal and their views are expressed and spread online.

“Views expressed in cyberspace are about 20 per cent favourable to us and 80 per cent against,” said Lee Jun-seok, 27, a computer expert brought in to help revamp the ruling conservative Saenuri Party’s online presence.

“It’s almost like as soon as you say something for our party, you come under attack.”

The five most popular politicians on Twitter are all left-wingers. The top conservative is the presidential contender Park Geun-hye who ranks eighth with about 180,000 followers.

On the other hand, a traditional Realmeter poll taken between March 26-30 showed 39.8 per cent support for the ruling conservatives, 30.5 per cent support for the main opposition Democrat United Party and 8.1 per cent for its coalition partner, the United Progressive Party.

At the end of last year, traditional polls had the conservatives trailing the opposition, but now suggest the ruling party has made a comeback. Experts said they were flawed.

“Random digit dialling systems based on fixed lines rule out young people, workers who come home late and households that don’t have landlines,” said Yoon Hee-wrong from the Korea Society Opinion Institute, a research organisation.

South Korea has the world’s second-largest blogging community after China. Twitter use here is twice the world average, according to a Singapore Management University study. And they have enormous leverage in elections because the government has now lifted a ban on campaigning in social media.

“On Twitter, we are like birds talking to each other. That’s something that can’t be controlled,” said Kim Mi-wha, 47, a television comedian with almost 290,000 followers who is part of a band of celebrities embracing liberal causes.

Celebrity tweeters like Mr Kim have already helped elect an independent activist as the mayor of Seoul, ending conservative control of the capital last year.

Although polls had put the eventual winner, Park Won-soon, ahead in the mayoral race, his victory was much more decisive than indicated.

South Korea’s parliamentary elections are essentially a dry run for the powerful presidency. That vote in December will be the key test of whether the Twitter-using liberals can turn their lock on cyberspace into hard political power.

Yu Chang-ju, who helped manage Park Won-soon’s election win as Seoul mayor and now advises him on new-media strategy, said the number of Twitter users will double in time for the presidential election in December to about 10 million, or about one-fifth of the population.

“Twitter is a tool for many moderate Koreans to vent anger against the rich, the current administration and the ruling party,” said Huh Chang-deog, a sociology professor at Yeungnam University.

“This year’s elections are going to be the SNS- [social networking site] users group versus non-SNS group.”