Park Seong-min (Yonhap)
Cheong Wa Dae’s recent pick of a 24-year-old college student as a senior official handling youth policy is facing backlash both from opposition party members and young job seekers.
On Wednesday, Park Seong-min, a former supreme council member of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea who studies Korean language and literature at Korea University in Seoul, started her work as a secretary for the presidential political affairs office.
This is the first time that anyone in their 20s has served as a Grade 1 level government official, a rank just below that of vice minister and on a par with the deputy mayor of a city or the deputy governor of a province.
Park joined the Democratic Party in June 2018 and then was appointed as a youth spokesperson after a public audition in 2019. In August last year, she became the youngest member of the party’s supreme council to lead a task force for youth policy.
She resigned after the party’s crushing defeat in the April 7 mayoral elections along with other party leaders. She went back to school and continued working as a political commentator.
Cheong Wa Dae said her appointment aims to better reflect the voice of young people in policymaking overall, adding that Park plans to take a leave of absence from school to take on the job.
But online communities have seen complaints pour in as angry young job seekers, especially those preparing for the highly competitive civil servant exam, question the fairness of her appointment.
“Most civil servants start as Grade 5 officials and it takes more than 30 years for them to become Grade 2 officials,” an association of aides to lawmakers at the main opposition People Power Party said in a statement. “The latest appointment is causing anger, not support, from young people.”
The association also took issue with Park’s capabilities, saying, “She didn’t introduce any new policy for young people while working at the party leadership. She was also politically biased, no different from existing politicians.”
President Moon Jae-in’s senior political secretary Lee Cheol-hee disputed that view in a radio interview on Tuesday. “Her capabilities have already been fully reviewed before the appointment,” he said.
“Youth issues may relate to the whole generations but we thought it would be meaningful to listen to them directly and let them come up with their own solutions to problems they are facing.”
Addressing the question about fairness, he said: “She is an appointed official without a fixed term. She can work for a month or less than a year at the longest, considering the president’s remaining term.”
The latest appointment coincided with the rise of People Power Party leader Lee Jun-seok, a political sensation who recently became the youngest person to lead a major party here at the age of 36.
Experts say people in their 20s and 30s, who used to be ardent supporters of Moon and his liberal party, are increasingly turning their back and supporting the conservative party, largely in protest against the current government’s failed housing and job policies.
“Age is not the issue here. What matters is how she will prove her capabilities as a messenger connecting the desperate needs of young people and the nation’s outdated state administration system,” an aide to a Democratic Party lawmaker said on condition of anonymity.