Tag Archives: north korea

Snap South Korean presidential election points to tough Moon-Ahn race

South Korea’s snap presidential election in May now favors the progressive candidate, Moon Jae-in, but he is facing surprisingly strong opposition. (Facebook)

When Moon Jae-in (문재인) won his party’s nomination last Monday, news outlets across the globe immediately proclaimed that the progressive’s nomination all but assured Moon’s victory in the snap presidential election set to take place on May 9. 

Nevertheless, the next 27 days promise to be some of the most tumultuous in the history of South Korean democracy, with former president Park Geun-hye (박근혜) under arrest on bribery and other corruption charges and with US president Donald Trump’s administration taking an increasingly bellicose line over North Korea’s nuclear provocations. Park’s removal from office brought forward the presidential election previously scheduled for December.

Last week’s primaries among all of South Korea’s major parties have effectively settled the presidential field. Almost immediately, though, Moon’s opponents started lining up behind another progressive alternative — former software engineer and entrepreneur Ahn Cheol-soo (안철수), who kicked off his general election campaign by taking a ride on Seoul’s subways. The hint wasn’t subtle: Ahn is an outsider who understands the problems of everyday Koreans.

It set off an election dynamic that polls say, all of a sudden, is now too close to call.

Once Moon’s ally, former software businessman Ahn Cheol-soo is gaining support from many different corners of South Korean society, united solely by their mutual distrust for Moon. (Facebook)

The sudden Moon-Ahn horse race elevates a long-simmering rivalry that’s defined the South Korean opposition for the better part of the 2010s. Moon and Ahn both hold relatively left-wing views by the standards of South Korean politics. But Ahn is increasingly viewed as more pro-American, given Moon’s skepticism about the US-built Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system that North Korea and China view as an American provocation. While both Moon and Ahn previously opposed THAAD, which could deploy within weeks, the two candidates are now voicing at least qualified support for its deployment if North Korea’s aggression continues. But Moon has warned that THAAD’s deployment should be halted if North Korea resumes negotiations and freezes its nuclear weapons program.

More broadly, South Korean business elites like that Ahn comes from an entrepreneurial background. Idealistic voters, meanwhile, consider Ahn an untainted maverick who can break the cycle of corruption that’s dogged several administrations from both the left and the right and the ‘chaebol’ conglomerates than dominate the South Korean economy. (Notably, Samsung CEO Jay Y. Lee (이재용) was arrested in February as a result of the wide-ranging corruption scandal that engulfed Park’s presidency, accused of paying up to $40 million in bribes to Park in exchange for favorable treatment for Samsung).

At a stunningly rapid clip, Ahn has defined himself as the outsider to Moon’s insider. In addition, with the Korean right in shambles after Park’s implosion, many conservative voters — for now at least — seem to prefer a strategic vote for Ahn instead of a more right-wing candidate. Continue reading Snap South Korean presidential election points to tough Moon-Ahn race

Koreans look to 2017 after Park’s governing party loses seats

South Korean president Park Guen-hye met with US president Barack Obama in Washington soon after taking office in 2013. (White House)
South Korean president Park Guen-hye met with US president Barack Obama in Washington soon after taking office in 2013. (White House)

Though it’s only been two weeks since South Koreans upended polls to deliver a shock verdict in parliamentary elections, the country is now pivoting toward its next presidential election — which is nearly 20 months away. northkorea

Taking place nearly two-thirds of the way through the five-year term of president Park Guen-hye (박근혜), the election was an opportunity for Park to solidify her grip on the National Assembly, as well as her own party, the conservative Saenuri Party (새누리당, ‘New Frontier’ Party) by winning a more solid majority in South Korea’s 300-member unicameral legislature, the National Assembly (대한민국 국회). 

Despite poll predictions that Saenuri would take advantage of a split opposition and win an even wider majority, the party instead lost ground, falling further away from an absolute majority, winning just 122 seats, 24 fewer seats in the National Assembly than the party held before the elections. Park, like all South Korean presidents, is limited to a single term in office and, in some regards, she became a lame duck president from the first days of the 2013 inauguration of the country’s first female president. That hasn’t stopped Park from wielding power through a very strong executive branch.

SK elections 2016 SK national assembly (1)

Saenuri’s defeat, however, and Park’s failures in particular, mean that the country is now shifting towards the posturing among Park’s opponents, including those within other Saenuri Party factions, to plot a path to the presidency in an election that will not be held until December 20, 2017.

The results will give hope to the traditional center-left opposition party, the newly renamed (as of last December) Minjoo Party (더불어민주당), a successor to what used to be called the Democratic United Party, which won 123 seats — one more than Saenuri. That could embolden several top figures within the party to mount a 2017 presidential bid, including Moon Jae-in (문재인), the party’s former leader and its 2012 candidate against Park.

But the results will give even more hope to the newly formed, as of February, People’s Party (국민의당), an alternative liberal party that has pulled supporters away from Minjoo. Its leader is Ahn Cheol-soo (안철수), a software entrepreneur, businessman and academic, who burst onto the political scene as a potential presidential candidate in 2012. He will now almost certainly be a contender in the 2017 election. Though the People’s Party only won 38 seats, it actually won more votes than Minjoo.

So what does South Korea’s election mean for the rest of Park’s administration and for 2017? Continue reading Koreans look to 2017 after Park’s governing party loses seats

None of us knows anything about Kim Jong-un

It’s possible that North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, was temporarily removed from his position as the head of state of his country of 24.9 million during his 40-day absence from public view, which ended this week when North Korea’s news agency released photographs showing Kim on a ‘field guidance’ trip to a new residential complex. northkorea

It’s possible that Kim was never more than a figurehead, with the real power lying inside the secretive Organization and Guidance Department and with the North Korean military forces.

It’s possible that Kim is a figurehead, but his younger sister Kim Yo-jong is actually holding the true reigns of power. 

It’s possible, as Zachery Keck writes today in The Diplomat, that this entire saga shows that North Korea is becoming more transparent under Kim Jong-un.

It’s possible that Kim wasn’t actually responsible for the purge of his powerful uncle, Jang Sung-taek, last December, along with several other top-ranking officials close to the rule of his father, Kim Jong-il. Instead, Kim’s enemies may have effected Jang’s execution to send the young Kim a message about who really controls the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

It’s  possible that under Xi Jinping, the People’s Republic of China is weary of making excuses for a regime that much of the rest of the world disregards, except as a potential nuclear nuisance to be contained and otherwise isolated. 

It’s possible that the overweight Kim really was suffering from health problems that caused him to walk with a limp before his disappearance. That explains why, perhaps, he reappeared in photos earlier today, after a 40-day absence, using a cane, and following rumors that he suffered from an ankle injury and/or from gout.

It’s possible that the photos released aren’t even from yesterday, but recycled from a previous event or doctored.

In the depths of Kim’s disappearance, it was even possible that North Korea’s military leadership has staged a coup, and the high-profile trip by Hwang Pyong-so to Incheon for the Asian Games last week was the first step in what could be the process of reunification with South Korea. If and when South Korean reunification comes, it may come suddenly and unexpectedly.

But no one knows for sure what Kim’s absence signifies — and you shouldn’t trust anyone who says that they do know, because North Korea politics are still so incredibly opaque to the outside world. Continue reading None of us knows anything about Kim Jong-un

The future of political communication is the viral Internet meme

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If you woke up this morning to the ‘leader of the free world’ doing an interview with Zach Galifianakis, immediately scratched your head and wondered whether you could be trusted to read anything before coffee, you weren’t alone.France Flag IconUSflagUnited Kingdom Flag Icon

When I first saw it, I thought it was a joke — surely this was Galifianakis somehow video-shopping the president of the United States into a forum that’s otherwise reserved for the likes of spanking Justin Bieber.

But no — and after a couple of sober, caffeinated views, I realized that this was for real.  So no matter what else was going on with your day today, in world or US politics, it was The Day That Barack Obama Turned Up On ‘Between Two Ferns.’  It dominated the US news cycle — even Jonathan Chait wrote about it! Continue reading The future of political communication is the viral Internet meme

‘Everybody votes in agreement!’ But why does North Korea bother?

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There’s no country on the planet more autarkic or isolated than the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.northkorea

Last year, when Kim Jong-un decided to show that he was in charge, he executed his own uncle, Jang Song Thaek, who had been a top advisor to Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il.  There’s no question that Dear Leader is running North Korea, however poorly he may be running it — it has a GDP of around $40 billion while South Korea has a GDP of $1.130 trillion.

But when North Korea holds elections on Sunday to determine the 687 members of the Supreme People’s Assembly (최고 인민 회의), voters will have just one choice — a candidate of the Workers’ Party of Korea (조선로동당), the long-governing party of North Korea.  In some cases, voters may choose the candidate of either the Korean Social Democratic Party or the Chondoist Chongu Party, both of which govern in coalition with the Workers’ Party under the banner of the ‘Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland.’

Kim himself is standing in constituency #111 — an auspicious number!  He will represent Mount Paekdu — how sacred!

Or whatever.

The Supreme People’s Assembly is certainly not the fount of power in North Korea; instead, it’s a rubber-stamp parliament that rarely even convenes.

Given the nature of power and government in North Korea, what could Kim possibly gain out of the expense and hassle of staging she elections?  It’s not to gain a democratic mandate, because there’s no opposition (and there’s no way for North Korean voters to vote in secret against the government’s candidate).  The elections are such a sham that they certainly aren’t being staged for showing the world that North Korea is acceding to the mechanisms of democratic legitimacy.  I haven’t even listed North Korea’s election s on the 2014 electoral calendar because they so comically fall below the standards of anything we understand to be a valid election.

In contrast, elections for the Politburo Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (中国共产党) in neighboring China seem like bona fide exercises in civic duty.

So what gives?  There are at least three reasons why North Korea continues to go through the charade of holding ‘elections.’ Continue reading ‘Everybody votes in agreement!’ But why does North Korea bother?

Oppa inauguration style

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K-pop star and Internet sensation Psy has a message to South Korea’s new president:South Korea Flag Icon

Heyyyyyy, sexy lady.

Conservative Park Geun-hye (박근혜), the daughter of Park Chun-hee (박정희), the authoritarian leader of South Korea in the 1960s and 1970s widely credited with engineering Korea’s economic growth, was inaugurated on Tuesday as South Korea’s first female president following a convincing victory in the December 2012 presidential election over liberal candidate Moon Jae-in (문재인).

She marked her first day in office with an otherwise somber inaugural address that served mostly as a warning to North Korea to cease its nuclear tests and to dismantle its nuclear weapons program:

“North Korea’s recent nuclear test is a challenge to the survival and future of the Korean people,” Park said outside the national assembly building in the South Korean capital. “Make no mistake, the biggest victim will be North Korea itself.”

Referencing her father’s astoundingly successful economic program, Park also called for a ‘2nd miracle on the Han River’ — Park promised to preside over a happier Korea after a shaking transition period that saw her first choice for prime minister withdraw over a real estate scandal.  Park herself has already met sharp criticism over her own apparent backtracking on her campaign commitment to address economic democratization — essentially, income inequality issues in South Korea.

For one day, though, it seems that a happier Korea began with a performance by Psy, who kicked off a decidedly much less somber start to the Park era.

Park Geun-hye becomes South Korea’s first female president

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Back in July, I suggested that  Park Geun-hye (박근혜) of the Saenuri Party (새누리당 or the ‘Saenuri-dang’, the New Frontier Party) was defying gravity in her race for South Korea’s presidency, and I listed five reasons why:

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  • She’d rebranded her party from the Grand National Party into the ‘New Frontier’ Party.
  • She then led the Saenuri Party to victory in elections for the National Assembly in April despite the unpopularity of her party’s incumbent president Lee Myung-bak (이명박).
  • Even six months ago, she had already co-opted the message of the center-left on ‘economic democratization,’ chaebol reform and income inequality.
  • South Korea’s progressive opposition was largely divided.
  • Mixed feelings (including some nostalgia among older voters) about her father’s authoritarian reign from 1961 to 1979 largely neutralized potentially controversial family ties.

By the time South Koreans went to the polls yesterday, all of those factors contributed to her victory.

She has defeated Moon Jae-in (문재인) of the Democratic United Party (민주통합당, or the ‘Minju Tonghap-dang’) with 51.6% of the vote to just 47.9% for Moon, ending what was always a very close race — albeit one where Park always seems to hold a slight edge.

As we look ahead, all of those factors should equally inform us as to what to expect from Park — the first woman to become South Korea’s president — and her incoming administration.

By rebranding her party as the ‘New Frontier’ Party — and making clear that the new frontier would not include Lee (who narrowly defeated Park for her party’s presidential nomination in 2007) — and then running against Lee’s record as much as against her opponent, she neutralized one of the most significant impediments to her candidacy.  She reinforced the split during the spring legislative campaign — and, by the way, she’ll enter the Blue House with a very friendly parliament as well.  Moon, had he won the election, would have been hampered by a hostile Saenuri majority, but Park will find a largely pliant National Assembly — Saenuri legislators know that they would not have that majority without Park.  So she’ll wield significant power as president in order to push through her campaign agenda.

That agenda, frankly, does not appear dissimilar to the agenda Moon promised.  While the policy details have been less than detailed, Park’s campaign emphasized traditionally liberal themes, and that moderate agenda certainly helped elect Park yesterday.  If Park wants to avoid the unpopularity of her predecessor, she’ll have to produce legislative accomplishments, not only on chaebol reform, but also find a way to reduce Korean income inequality and, ultimately, she’ll probably need to be lucky enough to have robust GDP growth.

On North Korea, too, both candidates agreed that the next president should be more conciliatory to North Korea than Lee’s administration, but they shied away from advocating a full return to the ‘Sunshine Policy’ of the late 1990s and 2000s that increasingly seemed to South Koreans like a series of handouts in exchange for further aggression from North Korea.  So under Park, South Korea will likely retain its firm approach to North Korea, but with relatively more carrots than sticks.

In terms of the geopolitics of East Asia, Park — who assumed the role of first lady during her father’s administration at age 22 when, in 1974, her mother was assassinated by North Koreans — will certainly be no shrinking violet (get set for five years of hearing the phrase ‘the Iron Lady of Asia’).

Indeed, it’s a crucial time for East Asia, given that King Jong-un has been in power for only a year, Xi Jinping (习近平) only last month took over as general secretary of the Chinese Communist  Party (中国共产党) and is set early next year to become the president of the People’s Republic of China, and the hawkish Shinzō Abe (安倍 晋三) only last Sunday won Japan’s parliamentary elections, returning him to power as prime minister.  Park’s immersion in Korean politics since the 1970s and her perceived toughness (she once returned to the campaign trail in 2006 just days after an assailant slashed her in the face with a knife) also likely contributed to her victory yesterday. Continue reading Park Geun-hye becomes South Korea’s first female president

North Korea launches itself into top echelon of issues in Korean presidential race

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With so many other economic issues to discuss in the South Korean presidential campaign, relations with North Korea had not always been at the forefront of the campaign debate, even though it was always more likely than not that the unique foreign relations challenge will eventually rise to the forefront of the  next South Korean president’s agenda in the next five years.

North Korea’s unpredictable passive-aggressive policy with respect to its southern neighbor has continued at a low hum since Kim Jong-un (pictured above) assumed leadership of the ironically named Democratic People’s Republic of Korea following the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, in December 2011.

Today, however, North Korea may have ‘launched’ itself into the presidential race by firing a rocket — literally, a long-range rocket that threatens to make North Korea a dominant issue in the presidential race:

Such developments can influence whom people will support when they go to cast their ballots, although its effects on public sentiments has yet to be determined.

“Experts are divided on the impact, with some predicting the launch will give credence to hardliners and help conservative presidential hopeful Park Geun-hye, while others said people may vote for Moon Jae-in of the liberal opposition party because they do not want an escalation of tensions,” an election watcher said.

He added that because voters are already split between the conservative and liberal camps, the latest provocation by Pyongyang may not really affect the outcome of the race.

“The country as a whole has become ‘indifferent’ having already seen the North test numerous rockets and detonated two nuclear devices,” the expert said. He added that because the launch had been expected people will be less likely to be moved.

For now, with a final presidential debate scheduled for Dec. 16, and with new polls forbidden from publication after Thursday under South Korean election law, it will remain unclear what impact the North Korean rocket launch might have on the campaign until election day.

Ultimately, however, both major candidates in the South Korean election have promised a more conciliatory policy with North Korea than outgoing South Korean president Lee Myung-bak, and many observers believe the rocket launch had more to do with internal North Korean politics than anything else.

While South Korea, with around 50 million people, has a GDP per capita of around $32,000, North Korea’s GDP per capita is something more like $2,400, despite the fact that it has just under 25 million people.  The South Korean economy exceeds $1.15 trillion to just around $45 billion in North Korea (see below a photo of the two Koreas at night from the Earth’s atmosphere).

South Korea split from North Korea after World War II, and the Korean War that began in June 1950 when the North invaded the South ultimately became the first proxy battle of the Cold War, pitting active forces from the United States against Communist forces (with the People’s Republic of China backing the North).  Despite an armistice agreement in 1953, the two Koreas have formally been in a state of war ever since, and the de-militarized zone between the two marks one of the most heavily armed borders in the world.

While it’s expected that the candidate of Lee’s party, Park Geun-hye of the Saenuri Party (새누리당 or the ‘Saenuri-dang’) would take a more hawkish tone, and Roh’s former chief of staff, Moon Jae-in, the presidential candidate of the liberal Democratic United Party (민주통합당, or the ‘Minju Tonghap-dang’) is expected to pursue a renewed variant of the once-ascendant ‘Sunshine Policy,’ the reality may well be more complicated.

Park has advocated what she uniquely calls a ‘trustpolitik‘ policy toward North Korea — more hawkish, perhaps, than previous policies of the Roh and Kim administrations, but decidedly more geared toward discussion and conciliation than the Lee administration, which Park says has failed to stem the aggression of North Korea.

Given the widespread disillusionment with the Sunshine Policy and its perceived lack of results, in addition to the relatively tighter economic conditions in South Korea, it seems unlikely that Moon would either be willing or able to pursue as wide a conciliatory policy to North Korea as the Roh and Kim administrations.

Lee has taken a hawkish attitude toward North Korea, ending the so-called ‘Sunshine Policy’ of his predecessors Roh Moo-hyun and Kim Dae-jung that had been South Korea’s policy for a decade.  Indeed, former president Kim won a Nobel Peace Prize for the policy, which resulted in summits in 2000 and 2007 to discuss further north-south cooperation in greater Korea, but mixed or negative results otherwise. Continue reading North Korea launches itself into top echelon of issues in Korean presidential race

The incredibly shrinking Lee Myung-bak

South Korea’s presidential elections never feature incumbents — the president is limited to a single five-year term — but that doesn’t mean incumbents don’t feature prominently in presidential elections.

In 2007, Chung Dong-young suffered from his ties to president Roh Moo-hyun, under whose administration Chung served as unification minister, and to some degree, Moon Jae-in, the presidential candidate of the liberal Democratic United Party (민주통합당, or the ‘Minju Tonghap-dang’) and Roh’s former chief of staff.

But given that incumbent president Lee Myung-bak, who will leave office as one of South Korea’s most unpopular presidents, garners approval ratings of around 20%, you’d expect that the candidate of Lee’s Saenuri Party (새누리당 or the ‘Saenuri-dang’), formerly the Grand National Party, would be suffering even more, right?

Wrong.  In South Korea’s presidential race this year, one of the reasons that Park Geun-hye has consistently held a lead over Moon has been her successful distancing from the Lee administration (although that lead is narrowing fast, especially after Park made a gaffe in the second presidential debate Monday indicating she wanted to ‘invigorate’ the underground economy).

Moon has consistently attacked Park for her party’s economic record, but the charges have not (so far) erased Moon’s deficit, even after posters surfaced trying to tie the two together as ‘Lee Myung Park Geun-hye.’

If anything, Park has been more successful by hammering away at lingering doubt about the Roh administration and Moon’s ties to it as Roh’s chief of staff.

That’s in part because while Park has attacked Roh’s administration, she’s also shown no compunction in attacking Lee’s record as well:

“The Roh Moo-hyun government wasted a period of prosperity in the world economy by indulging in ideological debates and power struggles, leading to the erosion in working-class living standards. The Lee Myung-bak government put growth before everything and failed to make lives better. I will not be a leader who will repeat the mistakes of previous governments,” Park said at a rally in Seogwipo, Jeju Island.

During the campaign, Park has attacked Lee’s administration for having failed middle class people and for exacerbating income inequality — an issue that both Park and Moon had pledged to make a top priority if elected.  Despite the rhetoric, there’s really no indication that Park’s administration would mark a vast policy difference from Lee’s administration.  If anything, Korean conservatives are incredibly united behind Park’s candidacy — more so than at any other time since the 1987 election.

But Park has long been known as an intraparty rival of Lee — no one would ever accuse Park of harboring secret affection for Lee or his accomplishments. Continue reading The incredibly shrinking Lee Myung-bak

Ahn’s exit clears way for competitive Moon presidential campaign against Park in South Korea

Last Friday, independent presidential candidate Ahn Cheol-soo dropped out of the South Korean presidential race.

Without a doubt, his decision has transformed the race from a three-way contest between one conservative and two liberals, which was destined to favor the conservative candidate, Park Geen-hye of the Saenuri Party (새누리당 or the ‘Saenuri-dang’) into a direct showdown between the two dominant brands of politics in South Korea over the past half-century.

Before his withdrawal, Ahn was splitting the support of liberal voters with Moon Jae-in of the Democratic United Party (민주통합당, or the ‘Minju Tonghap-dang’).

Now Moon and Park are in a much closer race, although the latest polls give Park a slight edge (the latest Realmeter poll from Nov. 30 shows Park with 49.9% support and Moon with just 44.2%).  Polls routinely showed that before his withdrawal, Ahn, if anything, was the stronger candidate against Park (not Moon).

It’s still unclear why Ahn dropped out so suddenly — in an interview last week prior to his withdrawal, he indicated he had no intentions of bowing out.  But by falling on his own sword, Ahn has made himself even more popular by apparently putting the cause of defeating Park ahead of his own personal ambitions.  Now in the position of a potential kingmaker, Ahn can trade his vigorous support for Moon (Ahn has already somewhat gracefully called on his supporters to vote for Moon) for a role in a potential Moon administration, which could give Ahn governmental experience in advance of the 2017 election.

For such a liberal candidate, it’s a little shocking to see polls that show only 50.7% of Ahn’s former backers are committed to Moon with less than three weeks to go until the election, even though over 70% of Ahn’s supporters want to see a change in administration from the current Saenuri Party.  Fully 26.4% of Ahn backers apparently support Park and 21.9% remain undecided — Moon cannot win unless he (with or without Ahn’s help) can migrate more of Ahn’s former supporters into his own camp.

Ahn’s popularity has been somewhat of a phenomenon in South Korea since he first flirted with running in Seoul’s mayoral race in October 2011 — although he failed to enter that race, which polls showed he could have won, he backed Park Won-soon, another liberal independent, who ultimately won the Seoul election.  Ahn spent the better part of 2012 teasing a presidential campaign that he announced only in September of this year.

Ahn, himself, is a businessman by background — he founded AhnLab, Inc. in March 1995 (think of it as South Korea’s version of McAfee or any other anti-virus software company).  Until he launched his now-aborted presidential campaign, Ahn was a graduate school dean at Seoul National University.   Continue reading Ahn’s exit clears way for competitive Moon presidential campaign against Park in South Korea

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%.