Korean Elections: The Race for the Blue House


BUSAN, South Korea — Despite all that’s been written about it so far, Korea’s presidential election really only just began. S*** got real once Ahn Cheol-soo, the independent left-leaning billionaire software mogul, dropped out of the race in late November. One week later, the official candidates (significantly, leftist Moon Jae-in and right-winger Park Geun-hye) registered to duke it out on December 19.

And so it began. For the next two weeks we, the people, will be subjected to ‘heartfelt’ political ads (scroll down), drive-by televised speeches and the constant battle cry of the ajumma, proudly row-dancing and clutching banners on the street.

Recap: What happened to Ahn?

Recall the stats as of early November. The voting populace could be evenly divided: 50 percent to Park, and 25 percent to both Moon and Ahn. It was clear to everyone that the liberal vote would be split. One person had to quit, so Ahn fell on the sword.

Over at The Marmot’s Hole, The Korean writes a concise summary of all that; if Ahn had waited for left-wing voters to decide their own candidate, they probably would have voted for Moon, which would have allowed, as The Korean puts it, an organic merging between the two.

Instead, Ahn now looks like the martyr who fell trying to fight against traditional politics, and Moon has devolved into the heavy-handed traditionalist smothering political change. Woops!

Where did all the Ahn votes go?

Ahn’s camp is, itself, a smorgasbord. Half of them were true left-leaners and a bunch were undecided or apathetic, while nearly 19 percent defected to Park.

So let’s return to those previous numbers: 50 (Park), 25 (Moon) and 25 (Ahn) now becomes 55 (Park) and 45 (Moon), with many of Ahn’s people disappearing from the voting field into undecided or apathetic.

Moon needs Ahn to win. But Ahn ain’t willing to just give it all up to just any guy; always a people-pleaser, Ahn pledged to follow whatever his supporters wish. Since half his camp when to Moon, it’s likely, though not certain, that he will officially endorse Moon in the next few days.

The Hankyoreh (a very handy tool, it must be said, when it comes to simple infographics) notes that Moon would win by a slim margin if Ahn’s supporters joined the DUP ranks. So on that note, we just sit and wait.

Enough about Ahn. What’s happening in the actual election?

The Ads

Both Moon and Park came out swinging with political ads on November 27.
The Wall Street Journal Korea RealTime blog helpfully provides some translation:

Park Geun-hye Campaign Ad


PARK:  The wound inflicted on the day when I almost arrived at death’s door changed me forever. You all saved me. That day, I decided to dedicate myself to take care of your wounds for the rest of my life.

The reference is to a public speech she made back in 2006, when a lunatic charged the podium and slashed her face with a box cutter. The televised event made huge news, and highlighted Park’s gracious determination in the political landscape afterwards.

Her soft voice would is also presumably to appease those who associate her with her dictator father, whose military reign many Koreans still resent. She’s also an unmarried woman, which is unusual in the political landscape and enforces her sweet but tough girl image, which her camp hopes will win over voters both left-leaning and undecided.

Moon Jae-in Campaign Ad

NARRATOR: If you can’t remember 239 speeches that amount to 1,680 pages, just remember these three sentences.

MOON: Be equal. The process will be fair. The results will be just.

Moon’s ad is way more innocuous, arguably even lazy; he’s gotten flak for chilling on a chair that costs an outrageous 7 million won. (His wife later tweeted in response that she bought it second-hand for only 500k, and that having to clarify this kind of [personal] thing makes me want to cry, which may or may not be cause for voter sympathy.)

As sometimes happens with liberal politicians, Moon has been lambasted in the media for being an elitist intellectual, detached from the common man. (Canadians will catch the reference.) Moon’s video therefore establishes him as an at-home guy, a dude who’d just chill in his chair with his family and let a documentary crew record it with a subtle shaky-cam.

For the next two weeks

Expect the usual Korean political fare and streets louder than usual. Park’s rejected Moon’s request for a live televised debate, which is actually pretty weird, on the grounds that her nationwide tour is too tight. (How else can Moon show off his lofty elitist intellectualism? How else can Park look like an aristocratic old-fashioned hag?)

They’ve taken these digs at each other already, albeit not exactly using those words. Park’s the daughter of a dictator; Moon’s the ally of a s***** government. Who will convince the public?

Who knows?

South Korea Presidential Primer: Who are the Candidates?




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