World

South Korea’s frustrated younger voters demand change

All eyes on how the votes of the young and restless will impact South Korea's presidential election today

SEOUL: Thirty years after South Korea became a democracy, voters born in the period go to the polls today to elect a new president, frustrated over their job prospects as growth slows.

Its young voters complain bitterly that times have changed dramatically from their parents' generation, when hard work paid off with wealth and success regardless of social origin.

Unemployment among those under 30 has risen for five years to hit an all-time high of 9.8 per cent last year, more than double the overall average.

Companies are reluctant to hire in the face of slowing growth, which is now below 3 per cent a year. Big names such as Samsung, SK and Hyundai receive hundreds of thousands of applications each year for just a few thousand positions.

A poll of the country's 500 largest companies last month showed nearly a quarter of respondents planned to reduce new hires or not recruit at all in the first half of the year.

With their entry into the workforce indefinitely delayed, graduates spend years filling out job forms.

Even more distressing is a sense of despair that the lack of opportunities compared with the past, and far more competition, means they will never improve their position in a country with a rigid class structure.

The mounting frustrations were underlying drivers of the anti-corruption protests last year, when millions of people took to the streets to demand president Park Geun Hye's removal.

And now, those in their 20s and 30s, who made up the largest slice of the demonstrators, want their votes to bring about tangible change. Presidential frontrunner Moon Jae In has vowed to create 810,000 new jobs, with about a third allotted to younger applicants.

His rival Ahn Cheol Soo has promised to hand out monthly subsidies of around 500,000 won (S$620) to young employees at smaller companies in an effort to match the wages of larger firms.

As of yesterday, some young voters were still undecided on who best serves their interests. Student I Gyeong Eun said: "It seems the candidates are more focused on bringing each other down. I get the feeling that policies on youth haven't been discussed in depth." - AFP

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