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Tsutomu Nishioka

【#435】S. Korean Election May Be Choice between Worst and Second Worst

Tsutomu Nishioka / 2017.04.27 (Thu)

April 24, 2017

     South Korea will hold a presidential election on May 9. In response to a decision to ouster President Park Geun Hye, the election that had been planned for December will take place seven months ahead of schedule.
     Since the present constitution providing for the direct presidential election system was established in 1987, anti-communist conservatives and pro-Pyongyang leftists have harshly confronted each other in South Korean politics amid North Korea’s political maneuvering. South Korean politics represents a harsh political battle on the wide spectrum from leftists subordinate to the North to anti-communist conservatives. I call the battle “a civil war without gunfire.”

Pro-Pyongyang leftist vs center-leftist
     Since last October, large-scale street rallies took place calling for President Park’s resignation. Leading the so-called candle rallies were pro-Pyongyang leftists positioned at the left end of the South Korean political spectrum. Leading presidential candidates Moon Jae In and Ahn Cheol Soo have praised these rallies.
     Since January, anti-communist conservatives had staged large-scale rallies asserting that the impeachment of President Park should be invalid. Those conservatives whose symbol is the national flag are positioned at the right end of the political spectrum. Some of the national flag rally organizers formed a new political party to field lawmaker Cho Won Jin, who is viewed as a minor presidential candidate and has failed to be invited to a television debate among major presidential candidates. Hong Joon Pyo, a presidential candidate from the Korea Liberty Party that had been the ruling party called Saenuri Party under President Park, is also far behind the two leading candidates in popularity.
     The presidential election features the absence of any strong conservative candidate after the impeachment of President Park and a confrontation between pro-Pyongyang leftist Moon Jae In and center-leftist Ahn Cheol Soo through the public opinion axis’ shift to the left. Conservative leaders are divided into two sides. Journalist Cho Gab Je and his group call for voting for the center-leftist candidate as the second worst to prevent any pro-Pyongyang leftist regime from being established as the worst. Chief Editor Jeong Kyu Jae of the Korea Economic Daily and his group insist that they should vote for conservative candidates to reconstruct the conservative camp even if they are defeated in the coming presidential election.

Revolutionary shift or moderate shift to left
     Behind the conservative’s debate is the question of whether an Ahn administration would be “the other worst” or “the second worst.” The key to the question is national security policy. A Moon administration could realize a federation of the two Koreas and collapse the alliance with the United States. As Ahn has pledged a conservative policy of increasing defense spending to 3% of gross domestic product, he would maintain the alliance with the United States. However, Ahn as well as Moon is unlikely to tackle another national security challenge to sweep the expanded pro-Pyongyang force in South Korea. Under an Ahn administration, pro-Pyongyang leftists could launch a political offensive again to impeach the president, leading to turmoil.
     A Moon administration will represent a revolutionary shift to the left, while an Ahn administration will lead to a moderate shift to the left. Undoubtedly, the crisis for anti-communist liberal democracy in South Korea will deepen. Given such future development, I would like to emphasize that Japan should amend its constitution to have national armed forces and substantially increase defense spending.

Tsutomu Nishioka is Planning Committee Member, Japan Institute for National Fundamentals, and Visiting Professor at Reitaku University.