WHEN – Today is the South Korean Presidential election. The outside world cares because on the other side of the Korean border is Kim Jong-un and his nuclear weapons. The South cares about this, too, but the economy and corruption remain top of the list of voter concerns.
WHY – The elections are being held 7 months early following the impeachment of former President Park Guen-hye. She’s now in jail facing corruption charges.
WHO – The clear front runner is Moon Jae-in. He’s a liberal-minded lawyer whose parents fled the North during the Korean War. He promises to create jobs and to revive the ‘Sunshine Policy’ of 20 years ago. This includes providing the North with aid, including cash. The quid pro quo is a freezing of the North’s nuclear programme, so don’t hold your breath. Mr Jae-in was runner-up in the previous Presidential election.
Second, in opinion polls, is the centre left People’s Party founder Ahn Cheol-soo. He’s a software tycoon nicknamed ‘Korea’s Bill Gates’. He’s a relative newcomer, and may benefit from not coming from the traditional party machines.
Trailing badly is the conservative candidate, Hoon Joon-pyo, aka ‘Hoon Trump’. He has earned this monicker through years of Trumpesque comments. Once asked if he helped out around the house he replied ‘No, that’s a woman’s job. I don’t do the dishes’. In his autobiography he recounted supplying a friend with a drug to help him have sex with a girl who was not returning the friend’s affections. The attempt failed. Mr Hoon described it as a ‘prank’.
WHAT – Hoon is from the same party as the jailed President so took the precaution to rename it – the Liberty Party. It probably won’t help. His main platform is national security but opinion polling by RealMeter suggests 27.5% of voters say the key issue is resolving corruption, followed by economic issues. Moon is strongest on the economy and gaining most support from younger voters. Unemployment is running at 11% for 15-29 year olds, more than double the national average. On defence he has criticized the THAAD ballistic missile shield recently installed by the Americans, but now that it has been deployed, it is unlikely he will dismantle it if elected.
WHERE – It’s the ‘Race for the Blue House’ – the official residence and office in Seoul of the South Korean President. Why so named? Cheong Wa Dae means ‘Pavilion of blue tiles’ and most of the 150,000 tiles on its roof are indeed that colour.