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Presidential Election Underlines Korea’s Immature Politics

Posted by: Ihlwan Moon on November 19, 2007

Regional loyalty and corruption charges against rival candidates have long dominated South Korean elections, with policies on national issues playing minor roles in choosing the country’s leaders. Next month’s presidential election isn’t likely to be an exception.

Many Koreans have hoped the successor to unpopular President Roh Moo Hyun will focus his presidency on defusing a crisis with North Korea, rebuilding relations with the U.S. and igniting an economic recovery. But the winner in the December 19 vote appears sure to face difficulty in garnering respects from supporters of his rivals. That’s because three major candidates are all flawed in one way or another.

The clear leader in the presidential race, former Seoul mayor Lee Myung Bak of the conservative Grand National Party, is accused of involvement in a fraudulent investment scheme run by his former business partner. Lee denies the allegations, now being probed by government prosecutors, but has apologized to voters that he wrongfully placed his children on the payroll of his company although they didn’t work there.

Chung Dong Young of the liberal United New Democratic Party supported by Roh, is now trying to reunite his party with the Democratic Party from which he and many liberal lawmakers broke away four years ago, accusing it of being old guards blocking progress on political reform. The third candidate is former Grand National Party chief Lee Hoi Chang, who quit the party to run as an independent. He is disobeying the party’s nomination of Lee Myung Bak, although his No. 1 platform is restoring the rule of law.

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