The recently* rebranded conservative and liberal parties (respectively Saenuri and DUP) will pick their champions by the end of september. But if PARK Geun-hye remains the favorite for the Saenuri (even if CHUNG Mong-joon or Gyeonggi-do governor KIM Moon-soo may give it a shot), HAN Myeong-sook seems to have lost her chances as the DUP candidate following the April 11 debacle, when Saenuri secured a comfortable legislative majority (confirming the lack of consistency of an opposition at this stage unfit to govern). MOON Jae-in, the actual ROH Moo-hyun political heir, jumped in with genuine chances of changing the game. AHN Cheol-Soo? The maverick is still weighing the pros and cons of a dive in the shark pool of Korean politics.
I've already mentioned the unsound balance of powers in Korea, where the president may have less influence than the head of a major chaebol because he becomes a lame duck as soon as he is elected: ROH Tae-woo, KIM Young-sam, KIM Dae-jung, ROH Moo-hyun, and LEE Myung-bak served only one term each, a limit meant to prevent the country from falling back into dictatorship. In this unicameral system, the assembly has the reputation of a UFC ring, and the political debate is at best non-existent, at worst a sick revival of the 1950s between hardcore conservatives and pro-NK activists. And if he independence of justice and media is often challenged, netizens are much more powerful and influential than in most countries. Thus a recurring temptation for the government to tame online media, a universe where, as a matter of fact, hoaxes can be more easily found than truths.
Note that South Korea ranks 44th in the 2011-2012 Press Freedom Index (Reporters Sans Frontieres), between Botswana and Comoros. Better than North Korea, of course (178th), but also better than the USA (47th). Yet the situation worsened since 2006 (31st), with a peak in 2009 (69th), the year that followed the candlelight vigil demonstrations.
So where does South Korea stand as a democracy? Here's the verdict according to Amnesty International's 2011 report: "The government increasingly used vaguely worded national security, defamation and other laws to harass and suppress its critics. In February, the Constitutional Court ruled that the death penalty did not violate the Constitution. In October and November, the Court conducted hearings on whether restrictions on migrant workers’ labour mobility, and military conscription without options for conscientious objection, constituted violations of fundamental rights."
In this context, a minority of ultra-conservatives may see an opportunity to copy the Japanese model, where the whole political system is crippled by revisionists, and where in spite of an overwhelmingly peaceful population, a handful of hatemongers has the power to take down governments at will. Emboldened by the recent scandals about pro-NK representatives within opposition members, they keep launching provocative trial balloons**.
So a quarter of a century after the 1987 revision of the constitution, South Korea seems to be at a major political crossroads. The voice of moderates is almost inaudible, and this is the most crucial moment when key values must be protected.
Which values? Well, they are at the preamble of the constitution, a document that can be downloaded in English on the Constitutional Court's website***:
"We, the people of Korea, proud of a resplendent history and traditions dating from time immemorial, upholding the cause of the Provisional Republic of Korea Government born of the March First Independence Movement of 1919 and the democratic ideals of the April Nineteenth Uprising of 1960 against injustice, having assumed the mission of democratic reform and peaceful unification of our homeland and having determined to consolidate national unity with justice, humanitarianism and brotherly love, and
To destroy all social vices and injustice, and
To afford equal opportunities to every person and provide for the fullest development of individual capabilities in all fields, including political, economic, social and cultural life by further strengthening the basic free and democratic order conducive to private initiative and public harmony, and
To help each person discharge those duties and responsibilities concomitant to freedoms and rights, and
To elevate the quality of life for all citizens and contribute to lasting world peace and the common prosperity of mankind and thereby to ensure security, liberty and happiness for ourselves and our posterity forever,
Do hereby amend, through national referendum following a resolution by the National Assembly, the Constitution, ordained and established on the Twelfth Day of July anno Domini Nineteen hundred and forty-eight, and amended eight times subsequently.
So look for candidates who seek "democratic reform and peaceful unification", candidates who want to "consolidate national unity with justice, humanitarianism and brotherly love", "to contribute to lasting world peace and the common prosperity of mankind", respecting not only "private initiative" but also "public harmony".
Find out how candidates interpret "to destroy all social vices" or "the basic free and democratic order", expose the impostures, see who really wants to protect the constitution, and see who really contributes to a clearer, sounder, more responsible and more respectful national debate.
Way to go.
Seoul Village 2012
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* see "Saenuri, a brand "new" wor(l)d"
** see "State-condoned creationism in Korea? A cold-blooded murder against King Sejong", "Still no apology from MBC, and more provocations on the Chinese front"...
*** http://english.ccourt.go.kr/home/att_file/download/Constitution_of_the_Republic_of_Korea.pdf (in Korean: http://www.ccourt.go.kr/home/information/low02_list.jsp?gubun=21 )