It’s not just the US which is going through a presidential election campaign right now. New guest contributor SK Adams gives his take on the South Korean campaign.
If tasked to dream up a thrilling presidential race, one couldn’t do much better than the current race for the Blue House in South Korea. Voters will choose between a diverse trio of candidates come December, in Korea’s 6th presidential race since democratisation. Let’s meet them…
On the right, representing the Saenuri Party (새누리당), stands Park Geun-hye. She is the daughter of South Korea’s former dictator Park Chung-hee, the man famous for the country’s rapid industrialisation and infamous for his horrible record on human rights. The Saenuri (meaning ‘New Frontier’) Party, which has been through an assortment of names, is the country’s main conservative party and seems to have the support of big business and the rural population. Geographically, it dominates the south-east, northern and eastern parts of the country, as well as many districts in Seoul.
On the left, representing the Democratic United Party (민주통합당) or DUP, stands Moon Jae-in. A human rights lawyer with experience at the Blue House as Roh Moo Hyun’s chief of staff, Moon has portrayed himself as a progressive and rational moderate with the backing of the youth. While Moon heads up the DUP, he is not the only liberal in the race.
Standing as an independent is a man by the name of Ahn Cheol-soo. This MD turned entrepreneur turned professor turned politician has shaken up the usual two party race. He’s a self-made man of status, having founded AhnLab, a company that writes antivirus software, and having served as a dean at Korea’s top university.
As it stands, polls suggest that Ahn and Moon are splitting the liberal vote and leaving Park with an easy win. Head-to-head polls put Park ahead of both Ahn and Moon. But what if these two candidates were to combine forces? Watch out for signs of a liberal alliance before December.
It is clear that we have a dynamic group of people campaigning for South Korea’s top spot. What is not clear is what exactly each candidate stands for…
On the topic of North Korea, all three candidates have suggested a more open/friendly relationship with the communist state. On the topic of the economy, all three stand for “economic democratization”, whereby presumably all citizens get a fair(er) chance to succeed. On the topic of Korea’s chaebols (giant conglomerates – think Samsung, Hyundai, Lotte), all three candidates support leveling the playing fields, i.e. reducing the chaebols’ power to dominate markets. Labour issues such as working hours and permanent staffing have also come to the fore, along with the topic of political reform.
Each candidate’s exact position on these issues and what they plan to do about them is more difficult to ascertain… but more on this in Part 2.
South Korea’s improbable rise to the status of global powerhouse is a success story like no other. It continues to surprise, excite and confound this writer and is a country of both character and characters. The contest for the next leader of the ‘Land of the Morning Calm’ is no different.
Other articles in the series: