Category Archives: South Korea

Five reasons why Park’s frontrunning South Korean presidential race is defying gravity

In many ways, it is astounding that the politician with the most momentum in South Korea, the world’s 12th largest economy, is Park Geun-hye, who announced her candidacy for president earlier this week.

Her party’s been in power for the past four years — having won an election on a promise to boost South Koreans’ wealth, it has presided over a tepid economy that follows decades of nearly phenomenal, nation-transforming economic growth.  Even worse, her party’s incumbent, Lee Myung-bak, is massively unpopular and is so implicated in corruption scandals — 19 members of his administration, including his brother, are currently implicated in scandals — that he’s popularly known as “President Rat.”  He’s also taken hits for improperly spying on domestic rivals.

Park herself is the daughter of Park Chung-hee, essentially South Korea’s dictator from 1961 until his assassination in 1979, a figure about whom, it’s safe to say, 21st century South Koreans have mixed feelings. (More on that below).

So how is it that Park not only has a chance to win South Korea’s December 19 presidential election, but dominates polls in that election as well? Continue reading Five reasons why Park’s frontrunning South Korean presidential race is defying gravity

Park Geun-hye: ready for the Blue House?

With South Korean elections for the National Assembly now complete, and with the Saenuri Party (새누리당) holding on to its majority in the National Assembly, it is in many ways now the first day of South Korea’s presidential campaign.

No one emerges from the election with more of a boost than the Saenuri Party’s leader, who shepherded the Saenuri Party from the control of its unpopular and scandal-ridden old guard and rechristened it from the Grand National Party: Park Geun-hye, who also happens to be the daughter of former South Korean leader Park Chung-hee.

It seems clear that Park is ready to launch a campaign — she visited a national cemetery in Seoul Thursday morning and wrote in the visitors book at the front gate that she would create a new Republic of Korea.

Indeed, the Korea Times has a piece today setting the stage for Park’s emergence as presidential frontrunner:

Before the elections, few campaign watchers expected the Saenuri Party would receive such wide support from the general public after a series of scandals and corruption cases involving President Lee Myung-bak’s aides and relatives tarnished its image.

Park was called upon to assume the interim leadership last December when party support hit rock bottom.

The Korea Herald also hails her triumph, noting that Saeunri is rallying around Park in the aftermath of their win. Continue reading Park Geun-hye: ready for the Blue House?

South Korean national assembly elections — final results

In concert with earlier reports from Seoul, the Saenuri Party has won yesterday’s elections to fill the seats of the National Assembly.

According to the Republic of Korea’s National Election Commission, Saenuri will take 152 seats to just 127 seats for the Democratic United Party and 13 seats for the DUP’s ally, the Unified Progressive Party.  The conservative Liberal Forward Party has won five seats.

UPDATE (April 13): See after the jump an election map showing the regional results in the legislative elections.  As is the key to much of Korean politics — six of the country’s eight presidents have come from North Gyeongsang province in the southeast of the country; the two most recent, Roh Moo-hyun and Lee Myung-bak, hail from South Gyeongsang province.  During Park Chung-hee’s regime from 1961 to 1979, Gyeongsang — which was historically the strongest of South Korea’s historical kingdoms — reaped beneficial treatment from the national government, which only furthered social stigma against Koreans from Jeolla province, which today remains a DUP strongold.  The DUP also performed well in Seoul, another traditional DUP stronghold.

Continue reading South Korean national assembly elections — final results

Of Ahn and Angry Birds: the political culture that is South Korea

This video comes to us from Ahn Chul-soo, who is emerging as a potential independent presidential candidate in the South Korean election in December of this year.

Ahn comes to politics from the business world — he founded AhnLab, Inc., an antivirus software company, and he now serves as the dean of the Graduate School of Convergence Science and Technology at Seoul National University.

In the clip above, Ahn uses Angry Birds to make a point to South Korean voters to turn out to today’s (now completed) legislative election:

“Bad pigs are hiding behind the castle, the solid establishment. These good birds are throwing themselves to break the castle,” Mr. Ahn said.

Then a voice asks him what he would do if the election turnout is over 70%, and he answers he would sing. “Since I can’t sing, it is a big sacrifice,” he said.

But the voice insists he dance as well. He laughs and reluctantly agrees. The voice then wraps up the interview by declaring “Mr. Ahn will sing and dance in mini-skirt!” Mr. Ahn looks clearly embarrassed and throws the Angry Bird stuffed animal he was holding towards the camera. Then a message appears on screen, “Angry?? Just Vote!”

Ahn rose to political prominence last year with a series of appearances and commentaries on South Korean politics.  He currently garners significant support in pre-election polls as a credible, if not leading, presidential candidate.  Ahn met with Microsoft founder Bill Gates in Seattle earlier this year, furthering speculation that the one-time IT entrepreneur will make a run at the Blue House (the ROK’s presidential home).

Upset win for Saenuri Party in South Korea

With just over half of the ballots counted, Korean news sources are projecting that the governing Saenuri Party (새누리당 or the ‘Saenuri-dang’) will win, however slightly, more seats than the opposition in South Korea’s April 11 parliamentary elections.

The Saenuri Party is forecast to win about 144 seats in the South Korea national assembly — it currently holds 165 under current leader and likely future presidential candidate Park Geun-hye, daughter of the former ROK leader.

The victory is also good news — or at least a reprieve — for embattled president Lee Myung-bak, whose one-time popularity has plummeted due to the stagnant economy, high unemployment and scandals over illegal internal surveillance.  Analysts, however, cautioned a rough road ahead for Lee, who will be a convenient punching bag ahead of December’s presidential election.

Prior to today’s election, the Democratic United Party (민주통합당, or the ‘Minju Tonghap-dang’) faced skepticism over the troubles it had in formalizing an alliance with the Unified Progressive Party, but looked to have an odds-on even chance at worst of winning the election.

Although the DUP will add seats to the 80 seats it held prior to the election, its inability to win outright will be seen as somewhat of a disappointment on expectations, given the current president’s unpopularity — so much so that the Saenuri Party only earlier this year, under Park’s leadership, rebranded itself from is previous “Grand National Party” moniker.

As of 11:30 pm South Korean time, the Saenuri Party had won or was leading in 127 out of a total of 246 constituencies with the DUP carrying 107, according to the National Election Commission. The United Progress Party (UPP), the DUP’s ally, had won or was leading in six.

Park will now almost certainly be the Saenuri presidential candidate in the December election (although Gyeonggi Province Governor Kim Moon-soo remains a potential alternative).  Although the DUP’s potential candidate is less clear following the result, the leading contender remains former Roh administration chief of staff Moon Jae-in, who won election today in a district in Busan.  In addition, IT entrepreneur and Seoul National University professor Ahn Chul-soo has also been seen as a popular potential independent candidate.

The Korea Times highlights some of the winners and losers in individual races — the losers include a former Saenuri Party leader, Hong Joon-pyo.  Among the highlights are more representation among the so-called ‘486 generation’ — those who were born in the 1960s and were student activists in the fight for democracy in the 1980s (the ‘4’ notes that they are in their 40s — the original term was ‘386’ generation when coined in the 1980s).

Also among the new National Assembly members will be Cho Myung-chul, the first North Korean defector to be elected in South Korea (Cho was listed fourth on Saenuri’s list of proportional representation candidates).

North Korea’s vote is anti-Lee, anti-Park

There are few world relationships trickier than the politics between North Korea and South Korea.

But two flavors of news from North Korea have shaped the upcoming South Korean legislative elections:

  • North Korea has announced its intention to launch a satellite and long-range rocket into orbit between April 12 and 16 in honor of Kim Il-Sung.
  • North Korea is not being shy about its hope that President Lee Myung-bak’s Saenuri Party (새누리당 or the ‘Saenuri-dang’) loses next Wednesday’s legislative elections.

It is difficult to know just what impact the North Korean issue will have on the election, the main focus of which has been the South Korean economy.  Lee has reversed the “sunshine policy” of his predecessors that marked the 2000s, where South Korea pushed comparatively more aid to North Korea — instead, he has taken a harder-line stance against Pyongyang.  At the same time, Cho Myung-chul, who defected from the North in 1994, is running on the Saenuri Party ticket to become the first defector to stand in the South Korean parliament.

At the same time, Pyongyang is increasing that rhetoric in none too subtle ways against Lee and the current leader of the Saenuri Party, Park Geun-hye.  Pyongyang’s Korean Council for Reconciliation today called Park a “dictator’s daughter” (Park is the daughter of former South Korean president Park Chung-hee, who was South Korea’s leader from 1961 to 1979 whose commitment to economic progress was somewhat greater than his commitment to political liberalization):

“A dictator’s bloodline cannot change away from its viciousness…all walks of life in the South must not be deceived by Park and her clique, and must judge the conservative traitors through the elections,” it said.

“We, along with all the Korean people, will never allow the ghosts of the dictatorship to make a comeback,” it said in a statement carried by the official news agency.

The North Korean government newspaper christened Park as a “Judas” with an “unlimited greed for power”.

Park met North Korea’s leader, the late Kim Jong-il, in Pyongyang in 2002 — they are pictured above in, um, happier times.  Kim died in December 2011 and his son, Kim Jong-un, has succeeded him, although the extent of Kim Jong-un’s power and the direction he’ll try to take North Korea remains murky.

I’m not sure how that is going to play with South Korean voters — most likely, they will probably just ignore the North’s clumsy attempts at political interference, just as they seem to ignore South Korean politicians who try to gain political advantage from any perceived threat from the North:

“Voters see any North Korean action more as Pyongyang strengthening its rhetoric to escalate tensions rather than a real national security threat or an actual move to attack the South,” said Lee Taek Soo, president of Seoul-based polling service Realmeter. “Parties have also abused the threat of North Korea in past elections, so voters have learned their lesson.”

The latest poll from Realmeter, conducted from March 27 to 30, shows the Saenuri Party with a slight uptick in support at 39.8%.  The chief opposition party, the Democratic United Party (민주통합당, or the ‘Minju Tonghap-dang’) garners 30.5% and its coalition partner, the Unified Progressive Party wins 8.1%.

One week until South Korean elections

It is difficult to believe, but South Korea came to democracy only in 1988 with the election of Roh Tae-woo as president — its democratic institutions are really newer there than in places like post-Franco Spain or post-Pinochet Chile, and akin to the gradual opening of democracies in which were effectively one-party states, such as post-war Italy under the Christian Democrats and post-war Japan under the Liberal Democratic Party.

With that in mind, South Korea goes to the polls a week from today to elect its legislature — a competitive election that will serve as a precursor to next year’s presidential race.

The two main parties are the Saenuri Party (새누리당 or the ‘Saenuri-dang’), the conservative party, renamed from the Grand National Party only in February, and the Democratic United Party (민주통합당, or the ‘Minju Tonghap-dang’), the chief liberal party.  Two smaller parties include the Liberty Forward Party, a second conservative party, and the Unified Progressive Party, a leftish party. Continue reading One week until South Korean elections