RUNNING NECK AND NECK: THE SOUTH KOREAN PRESIDENTIAL RACE

In light of the upcoming U.S. presidential election, we are publishing a series of articles about global elections and transitions taking place in 2012. Join us as we explore a diverse set of countries and the repercussions associated with leadership change by reading our “Week of Elections” series!

By Shruti Shrivastav
Staff Writer

The upcoming election in South Korea will mark a pivotal role in the country’s future. Much like the U.S. presidential election, the race between the three South Korean candidates is heating up. On Dec. 19, the sixth president of South Korea will be elected and incumbent president Lee Myung-bak will end his five year term. When Myung-bak was elected in 2007, a ten year liberal period in South Korean politics came to an end. This election cycle each of the three candidates, Park Geun-hye, Moon Jae-in and Ahn-Cheol-soo, come from very different backgrounds but share many of the same ideas regarding economic policy.

Lee Myung-bak’s administration reduced government bureaucracy and implemented a laissez-faire economic policy. However, the Korean public is increasingly critical of the control and power larger corporations, such as Samsung and Hyundai, have on the economy. The Korean public is eager to see changes that enforce stricter price and monopoly control policies on these dictating companies. By creating large vertical monopolies, these companies literally own everything in Korea. Department stores, apartment complexes, car dealerships — anything and everything has the brand of a large umbrella company. The wealth is consolidated in the upper echelon and therefore this election is critical to the 99% of Korea that is not Samsung, Hyundai, and LG. Each candidate has a similar economic plan for the country that involves breaking up monopolies and promoting small business in South Korea, but none has been able to elaborate the financial details behind their plans.

Park Geun-hye represents the conservative Saenuri, or New Frontier Party, previously called the Grand National Party, and is the first woman to be running for president. She is a politician by nature and nurture, as she is daughter of Park Chung-hee, who was president of South Korea from 1963-1979. Her father played a fundamental role in shaping South Korea after the Korean war and created a schism between the Korean people who either credit him with the unification of the country or condemn his authoritarian policies. Park Geun-hye separates herself from her father’s political views and has been an active member of the political system for most of her life. She is considered one of the most influential politicians in South Korea and offers experience greater than either of her opponents. Although she is often referred to as the “dictator’s daughter,” Park Geun-hye is good at what she does and knows how to make decisions..

Moon Jae-in, the candidate of the Democratic United Party, is a South Korean human rights lawyer and served as the former chief of staff to the late president Roh Mu-hyun. Roh deeply influenced Moon’s involvement in politics and the corruption charges earlier this year in the conservative party have greatly increased his popularity. Moon seeks to double senior citizens’ pensions using tax reforms, a promise unique to his platform. Currently third in the polls, the addition of the second runner up, Ahn Cheol-soo, has greatly shaken Moon’s support base.

The talk of the nation, Ahn Cheol-soo, formally entered the presidential race and mixed up the competition. He is a doctor, former graduate student dean, software engineer, and now a CEO-turned-politician. He appeals to the youth of South Korea and is taking disaffected voters by storm simply because of his fresh approach to politics. Politicians in South Korea have a reputation of being corrupt and instituting policies that benefit the wealthiest class. Thus, to have a candidate like Ahn who is not affiliated with any entrenched party makes him favorable. He claims that old politics need to be replaced and his strong science and engineering background will enable him to think and plan for South Korea’s future. His philanthropic contributions to society and his intellectual prowess makes him the public’s favorite, but his lack of experience might overshadow these qualities.

The much anticipated election season has presented the Korean public with serious decisions. With vastly different backgrounds, each candidate represents different things. Park brings stability and experience to the table. Moon’s humanitarian and liberal positions are unique, but he may not have universal appeal. Ahn, although inexperienced, brings several new and integrated approaches to solving South Korea’s economic problems. The polls have been shifting on a daily basis but the race seems to be a toss up between Park and Ahn. Will South Korea see it’s first woman president, or will Ahn reinvent the government with his revolutionary ideas?

We thank Junho Ban, Executive Director at Han Sung Motors/ Mercedes-Benz Korea, for his contributions to this article.

Image By Πρωθυπουργός της Ελλάδας

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