Thursday, November 8, 2007

Who would YOU vote for?

It's election season in Korea! I thought I'd escaped all of this when I left Canada, but this has proven to be a really interesting election! First of all, none of the candidates for the presidency seem, to me (and some Korean friends have backed me up on this point), to be... well... honest. I guess that's nothing new, but I've never experienced an election where all of the possible presidents have been accused of corruption. Politics are dirty everywhere you go, but I find them especially dirty here. One woman who wanted the presidency got attacked by a man on the street and was slashed in the face with a knife and then she was criticized by the opposition for coming back to work the day after the attack- I totally understand why she did it; she probably would have been replaced within a day. Anyway, she was the only woman in the race and she lost in her party's primary. Now, it's pretty much down to these two guys: don't let their clean cut, fresh faced appearance fool you: they're really, really old. Koreans age exceptionally well.

Lee Myung bak comes from a poor family and worked his way to the top (by means some could only describe as "questionable"). As a teenager he would work at his family's vendor all day and then go to high school at night. He made it through university and got a cushy job with Hyundai, eventually becoming a multi millionaire. He wrote a book called Mother, and says his mother was the inspiration. Duh.

He's a total hardliner on the North Korea issue and is economically conservative. He's running for the GNP, or the Grand National Party which is most comparable to the Progressive Conservatives in Canada or the Republican Party in the US. He was born in Osaka where his dad was a cattle hand, and then his family moved back to Korea after the occupation in the 1940's. Sad story though, the boat they were on sank and they lost everything they owned, which is why Lee had to work his way up the ladder.

There are some bad things about him: he's been suspected of corruption during his term as the Mayor of Seoul, there have been bribery charges laid on some of his people involved with one of his restoration projects, again while he was Mayor. But I think he's currently at the front of the race.

Chung Dong-young is running for the United New Democratic Party, which can best be compared to the Liberals in Canada or the Democrats in the US (with a slightly more pronounced stance on environmentalism). He was the Unification Minister from 2004-2005, and was a TV news journalist before getting involved in politics. He's a huge supporter of the "Sunshine Policy", which is a more diplomatic and liberal approach to North-South relations. People who support this policy want to see reconciliation and eventual reunification between North and South Korea, and certainly support a peaceful means of reunification.

Unlike Lee, he doesn't really have a sob story. He graduated from Seoul National University with a degree in history and went on to complete his master's in Wales. He certainly does not seem to have been brought up in a poor household.

Some bad things about Chung: He is often questioned on how he has been able to send his children to private school on his supposed income of just 100,000 USD a year, leading to assumptions that his dealings may not be completely legit. He's also been known to shoot off his mouth; in the past he has directed ciriticisms at members of the opposition, to students with a poor background, and to the elderly (who, in Korea, are more likely to vote for the GNP). Also, when he was minister of Korean Unification, he was criticized for his position on North Korea and his anti-American sentiments.

Soooo there are the options! Well, two of them. Korea has a multiparty system and there are others running, but these two (I'm thinking) are the only ones you'll need to worry about for the rest of the presidential election. We'll find out who wins in a month (ish). Are there any other candidates you think might have a chance? Let's keep in mind that I don't think Lee Hoi-chang has a chance (he's just left the GNP to run as an independent, saying he questions Lee Myung-bak's "integrity").


Anonymous said...

Hey. Great post. Thanks for the info. I follow Korean issues but I don't follow politics and now I feel I have some basic bearings on what's going on. Haha.

Janinel said...

I'm so glad to hear it! I thought this post would be such a bore to everyone, but your comment has brought back my confidence in the relevance of political commentary. Thanks.

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