By AsiaToday reporter Lim Yoo-jin
“It’s the great victory for the great people who have been with me to make a righteous country, united country and a country where principle and common sense works,” South Korean president-elect Moon Jae-in said Tuesday.
South Korea has given a chance to the ‘progressive administration’ in the 19th presidential election on Tuesday. With two conservative regimes, South Korea has been facing economic and security crisis at home and abroad. Besides, the unprecedented impeachment of South Korean president and the monopoly over state affairs raised the people’s aspiration to switch government power more than ever. Five years ago, the Park Geun-hye regime, which was named the victory of industrialization, won 51.63% of the vote. In the 2007 presidential election, the Lee Myung-bak administration won a landslide victory garnering almost 5.3 million votes more than his opponent. Probably, that’s why. The politically privileged class over the past ten years was arrogant and the regime ignored the miscommunication controversy.
In this presidential election, South Koreans experienced an unprecedented battle among opposition figures. The battle among the opposition candidates has been fierce, and there was no “candidate unification” among candidates unlike the past. President-elect Moon Jae-in has been leading in various polls in the absence of strong conservative candidates. From the very beginning of the race, Moon maintained overwhelming dominance that there was even an abbreviated Korean phrase - “Eo-dae-Moon”, short for “The president is Moon anyways.” Moon, who challenges presidency second time, claimed to be the most prepared of all candidates and put focus on “integration.”
Every election in South Korea has been a confrontation between the conservatives and the progressives. But such structure collapsed in this election. Some conservative supporters who initially supported People’s Party candidate Ahn Cheol-soo shifted to Hong Joon-pyo of the Liberal Korea Party at the last moment. As a result, attracting centrist and conservative voters was one of the biggest factors to determine the situation. Another feature is that voters underwent an election under multi-party structure as the unification of candidates ceased. Many point out that the voters were able to cast ballots according to their convictions in this election unlike the past, where elections were studded with regional and ideological confrontations under a polarized political structure called “conservatives versus progressives.”
Above all, South Korea’s presidential scandal has fueled the people’s interest in politics. Some 26% of the voters had cast ballots in early voting on May 4-5. Considering that some 12% of the voters had a vote in early voting for the country’s legislative elections held on 13 April 2016, this presidential election took place with a great national interest. This is largely due to the fact that the election comes after former President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment. This means that more voters believe that they can change the world by participating in politics and that they have high expectations of the new government.
The new government’s task will be to unify the nation that’s split deeply between the “candles” and “taegukgi” following the impeachment. Every time the new government was launched in South Korean society, the power game between the factions has been repeated and this eventually diminished the power to run the government. Whoever is chosen, it’s now impossible for him or her to administer state affairs without co-governance considering that the opposition party is a majority and that the National Assembly advancement act has been introduced. This means that the president should accept other parties as partners for the state administration.
With this in mind, Moon held a news conference in Seoul on May 8, one day ahead of the presidential election, and appealed to voters for overwhelming support, saying, “I want to be supported evenly nationwide and by all generations for the first time in history. I want to be the first united president in the history of the nation.”
One of the challenges faced by president-elect Moon is to unify public opinions divided during the presidential election process. And it’s impossible without embracing half of the voters who did not vote for him. It’s a necessary and sufficient condition for the new president to have a plan to achieve national unity through co-governance with other political parties. Other candidates and voters who supported other candidates should accept the result of the election and give support to the new president so he can administer affairs of state well.
Another feature of the presidential election is that the troublesome regional confrontation has disappeared while generational conflict between old and young has emerged. This could cause generational leanings or conflicts about government policies such as youth unemployment and non-regular worker issues versus extension of retirement, wage peak system and welfare for the elderly. In the past, political parties had also encouraged generational conflicts in order to gain votes. Since a generation gap often revolves around political ideology as well as socio-economic structure, it would be difficult to reunite the country without solving South Korea’s widening generation gap.
Economically, the Moon administration has to deal with creating jobs and overcoming low growth. The South Korean economy is trapped in low growth trends with a 2% range growth. It was the economy that drove the conservative regime for the past 10 years. The nation had given the conservative government a chance with anticipation that the conservative government will revive the economy. However, the economy has gotten worse in the past decade. Earlier this year, the number of unemployed topped 1 million and the youth unemployment rated reached 10%. The younger generation has been forced to take temporary jobs and internships, raising extreme pessimism about the country. With limited jobs and the society falling into the low growth stage, conflicts between older generation and younger generation intensified. As a result, the first task of the president-elect should be overcoming the generation conflict by reviving the economy through creating high-quality jobs.
As the progressive regime emerged in a decade, national expectations are higher than ever. This election is meaningful in that it is an election to abolish the privileged class and to lay a cornerstone of the society called “reform.” President-elect Moon called it “eradication of deep-rooted evil” and “reform and integration.” On the last day of the election campaign, he said, “Give me the strength to overcome the current crisis that the country faces. Make a flow of reform and integration that no one can go against.” A heavy responsibility of building a new development model of the Republic of Korea and removing the old political system lies on South Korea’s new president-elect.