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Tsutomu Nishioka

【#438(Special)】S. Korea’s Failure to Unite Conservatives and Centrists

Tsutomu Nishioka / 2017.05.15 (Mon)

May 10, 2017

     On May 9, Moon Jae In from the leftist Democratic Party of Korea won an overwhelming victory in the South Korean presidential election, garnering 41.1% of the votes against 24% for Hong Joon Pyo from the conservative Liberty Korea Party in second place and 21.4% for Ahn Cheol Soo from the centrist People’s Party in third place.
     Ahn rivaled Moon in popularity ratings by attracting conservative voters in early April before losing supporters fast largely on his poor performance in television debate. Meanwhile, Hong recorded popularity ratings below 10% in early April before boosting such ratings rapidly by winning back conservative voters. In fourth place in the presidential election was Yoo Seong Min from the center-right Bareun Party which supported the impeachment charge against President Park Geun Hye. Yoo won 6.8% of the votes. In fifth place was Sim Sang Jung from the far-left Justice Party who accounted for 6.2%.

Spreading anti-South Korean view
     Indicating the substantial mitigation of traditional interregional confrontation in South Korea, Moon garnered support evenly throughout the country. Even in Gyeongsang Provinces, the support base for Hong, Moon accounted for the largest vote share above Hong’s in populous Busan. In Daegu and North and South Gyeongsang Provinces where Hong won the largest vote share, Moon achieved the second largest. Main supporters for Hong were elderly voters aged at 60 or older. Moon obtained the largest vote share in all other age brackets. The election featured voters’ overall tilting to the left and the weakening of conservatives.
     The weakening of conservatives is attributable primarily to the “anti-South Korean view of history” that casts doubt on the legitimacy of South Korea as compared to the North. This view is based on left-leaning nationalism that has spread in the South Korean society since the 1980s. Moon has promised to clear “accumulated evils,” which refer to the mainstream force as a whole that has led modern South Korea. The anti-South Korean view of history stands on a revolutionary thought that the mainstream force represents pro-Japan people and their descendants who should be cleared.
     In his book published in January, Moon said: “As the pro-Japan force has retained power even since the Korean liberation, the dictatorial group and fake conservatives advocating national security have continued to control our society even since the democratization, while changing faces occasionally… Our country’s political mainstream force must be replaced… The old regime, old order and old political culture that the existing political mainstream force has built should be totally cleared and replaced with a new democratic regime.” He pledged to establish an investigation committee in the government to clear accumulated evils. The committee could serve as a kind of people’s court to attack the mainstream force.

Newspapers agitating public opinion
     Another factor that has weakened conservatives is that conservative newspapers (The Chosun Ilbo and The Dong-a Ilbo), which had led the anti-communist liberal democratic force in South Korea, have joined leftists to make false reports to add fuel to calls for impeaching President Park. As a result, 80% of citizens supported the impeachment. Among the five major presidential candidates, only Hong insisted on the injustice of the impeachment. Impeachment supporters’ share of 80% is close to the votes other than the 24% share for Hong.
     The only way for blocking a Moon administration that is the worst result for the conservatives was for Ahn and Hong to form a conservative-centrist alliance when Ahn rivaled Moon in popularity ratings. Kim Dae Jung allied with conservative Kim Jong Pil when creating the first leftist administration in South Korea 20 years ago. A conservative leader said, “Although a heroic person like Ryoma Sakamoto (who mediated an alliance between Satsuma and Choshu clans in last days of the Tokugawa shogunate in Japan) was required to unite two confronting forces, South Korea lacked such hero.”

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