Tag Archives: park guen-hye

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.

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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

After two failed efforts, Park turns back to Chung Hong-won as PM

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Six weeks after the horrific ferry accident in South Korea that killed 300 people, and following two failed attempts to find a new prime minister, president Park Geun-hye (박근혜) has decided to retain Chung Hong-won (정홍원) after all.South Korea Flag Icon

Chung (pictured above) previously announced his resignation as prime minister on April 27, taking responsibility for the government’s performance in the aftermath of the Sewol ferry disaster, with the intention of stepping down as soon as Park could appoint a successor.

But along the way, Park ran into trouble.

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Her first nominee, Ahn Dae-hee (안대희), a longtime state prosecutor and a former South Korean supreme court justice appointed by the late former president Roh Moo-hyun in 2006, was nominated on May 22.

But Ahn (pictured abovewithdrew a week later on ethics concerns over the massive amount of money he earned in the months after leaving the supreme court.

문창극 국무총리 후보자 '첫 출근'

Her second nominee, Moon Chang-keuk (문창극), a former journalist and former editor of Joongang Daily, withdrew from consideration on June 24, after making comments at a church that Japanese colonization of Korea between 1910 and 1945 was God’s will, something of a controversial statement where Korean-Japan relations in the early 20th century still cause tensions. 

It didn’t help that many South Koreans felt Moon (pictured above) was unqualified to be prime minister, nor that Moon had often expressed nostalgic admiration for the regime of Park’s authoritarian father, Park Chung-hee (박정희), who ruled South Korea from 1961 to 1979. 

Neither candidate even made it to a vote in the National Assembly (대한민국 국회).

Accordingly, in exasperation, Park announced late last week that she will retain Chung, a novel approach that has the benefit of giving South Korea a permanent government for the first time in six weeks, and it clears the way for the confirmation hearings of nine additional cabinet members. Continue reading After two failed efforts, Park turns back to Chung Hong-won as PM

Time names Barack Obama Person of the Year. Is that too US-centric?

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So Time Magazine’s decision to anoint a Person of the Year since 1927, for reasons unknown, holds a rapt audience among folks in the United States, myself included.

This year (oh the suspense!), Time chose U.S. president Barack ObamaUSflag

In those 85 years, of course, Time has chosen every U.S. president (except Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover and poor Gerald R. Ford), and in recent years, it’s made some pretty silly decisions (‘You’), but even as recently as 2007, chose Vladimir Putin as its Person of the Year.

Indeed, over its long history, it’s identified many world leaders as Person of the Year — Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi in 1930, Ethiopian emperor Haile Sellasie in 1935, (controversially) Nazi German leader Adolf Hitler in 1939 and  Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in 1940, (less controversially) U.K. prime minister Winston Churchill in 1941 (and again in 1949), Iranian president Mohammad Mossadegh in 1951, West German chancellors Konrad Adenauer in 1953 and Willy Brandt in 1970, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev in 1957, French president Charles de Gaulle in 1958, Saudi King Faisal in 1974, Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in 1977, Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in 1978 (and in 1985),  Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979, anti-Communist Polish Solidarity leader Lech Wałęsa in 1981 and even the anti-Marcos Filipino president that toppled the Marcos family, Corazon Aquino, in 1985.

Many of those decisions were thoughtful and, perhaps, even courageous.  As a platform for highlighting key issues and illuminating the mechanics of how cultures, politics and economics shape our world, the ‘Person of the Year’ concept isn’t a bad one.  

But before Putin in 2007, you have to go back to 1987 and 1989, when reform-minded Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev was chosen twice.

Is it really true that Time can’t find anyone in the world (outside the United States, of course) in the past 25 years worthy to be ‘Person of the Year’ other than Russian autocrats?

Certainly, Obama’s reelection was an important moment with wide implications for world affairs, but is Time really being too US-centric?

Consider all of the other options:

  • German chancellor Angela Merkel, who has nudged and cajoled the eurozone to bailouts of Greece, Portugal and Ireland that have kept those countries in the eurozone, while centralizing more fiscal policy and banking policy decision-making powers in the hands of the European Union.  In doing all of this, she’s maintained or even gained in popularity in Germany.
  • European Central Bank president Mario Draghi, whose commitment to stabilizing the eurozone in no uncertain language last summer may well have turned the page on the eurozone’s ongoing crisis.
  • International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde, for assistance in cleaning up most of Europe’s economic mess and the rest of the world’s besides, all the while trying to initiate a discussion about balancing austerity with the need for higher growth.
  • Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi, whose Muslim Brotherhood now controls the government of the world’s most populous Arab country in the wake of the revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak last year, and whose rule, above all over this week’s constitutional referendum, remains subject to increasing uncertainty and doubt among secular liberals?
  • Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas achieved recognition of Palestine as a state in the United Nations last month.
  • The incoming leader of the world’s most populous country, Xi Jinping, as the new general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party.  Hell, Time could have chosen the entire new seven-member Politburo Standing Committee.
  • Time could have been timely — and creative — and chosen the four new leaders of four East Asian countries — Xi, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, Japan’s incoming prime minister Shinzo Abe and South Korea’s incoming president Park Guen-hye, the latter two being elected just this week.
  • México, poised to overtake Brazil as the largest economy in Latin America in the 2020s, has returned the longstanding PRI to power under the leadership of new president Enrique Peña Nieto, who promises tax reforms, privatization and development of México’s oil industry and a new approach to drug violence and security.
  • Maybe even Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos, who’s staked his presidency on peace talks with the longtime rebel guerilla group FARC?
  • How about Aung San Suu Kyi, who after years of house arrest is now serving in the parliament of Burma/Myanmar, with the once nearly-autarkic regime engaged in reforms to not only its economy, but human rights and democracy as well, garnering the re-establishment of relations with the United States?

U.S. power isn’t infinite, especially in the increasingly multipolar 21st century — and at some point, it’s a little ridiculous for Time to focus on Americans to the exclusion of those outside the United States.  Maybe it’s time to call it what it’s become — the Person of the Year Most Relevant to the United States.

Photo credit to Nadav Kander for Time.