Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Anipang Election: Park wins big, but who won?

According to Mayans (solar calendar), the end of the world is for tomorrow, but in Korea (lunar calendar), MOON crashed yesterday.

Actually, MOON Jae-in never had the opportunity to take off*. AHN Cheol-soo did, but he blew it** (yeah, he eventually took off yesterday, but after casting his ballot, and at Incheon Airport, in a plane for the States).

So from the start, it's always been about PARK Geun-hye cruising towards a surprise-less win in a debate-free campaign against non-existent opponents.

Her victory is not a lackluster win, but a very clear democratic triumph. Yet I'm still wondering about who won the elections.


PGH's website this morning

Korean democracy chose an indisputable winner...

a very strong turnout: 75.80%, the biggest since the 1997 clash between Kim Dae-jung and Lee Hoi-chang
- a clear majority: 51.6% vs 48.0% (NB: small candidates were really garden gnomes this time)
- reaching beyond the usual geographic divides: we didn't skip the traditional strongholds (MOON rocked Honam, scoring 86-89% in Jeolla and 91.97% in Gwangju, PARK claimed Yeongnam, with a 80.4% peak in Daegu), but color-wise, the map is very far from the 1997 or 2002 East v. West split, and much closer to LEE Myung-bak's 2007 landslide victory. MOON claimed Seoul back, but barely. PARK's victory seemed inevitable very early, when the first Sudogwon results showed her ahead in Incheon and Gyeonggi-do, and very close to MOON in the capital city. Note that Korean expats voted 56-42 in favor of MOON.
- and even beyond the expected generational divides: yes, seniors massively voted PARK, but she didn't fare that bad at the other end of the spectrum, with one third of the youngest voters. And who ruled in social networking? The seniors, who literally kakaotalked each other to a whopping 90% participation rate.
 
 

... but who won these elections?...

For international observers, the big news is a combination of two events: a woman becomes President of the Republic of Korea for the first time, and the Korean democracy elects the offspring of a former dictator.

But I don't think the key issue in Korea was gender, or a referendum for or against PARK Chung-hee. And of course, I know constitutional values were not "top of mind". To me, it was about fears, uncertainties, and change.

And conservatism won.

Everybody knew that the situation was bad, and that something needed to be done. Both candidates promised similar reforms (less power for chaebols, more welfare for the powerless), but both inspired doubts: PARK regarding the balance of powers, MOON because his party was not ready to govern. And even when voters projected themselves in a country ruled by their own champion, they felt uncertain for the future. Fear clearly prevailed over hope, and both MOON and PARK spent their time reassuring voters - at this little game, conservatism usually wins.

And PARK followed the script perfectly, positioning herself as a mother for all citizens, softening her stance on reforms (like: yes chaebols have too much power, but in time of crisis, you cannot weaken the drivers of our economy). And as usual, she never gave the impression of speaking her own mind, always calculating her words, always speaking with the voice of the wary, risk-averse but confident ajumma.
 
So Koreans chose change without change, and the ruling party will keep ruling. But the official leader has really changed. LEE Myung-bak received a clear mandate for reforms, and he had credentials as a doer and a leader. PARK Geun-hye's more into backstage politics, and the only reforms she's carried out so far are rebranding her own party, replacing a few extra actors, and wishing very hard that corruption would stop***.

But PARK Geun-hye's been here forever, and everybody knows her story. She didn't chose to be the daughter of a dictator, and you can't expect a kid whose parents got murdered to grow into an adult like all others. She eventually distanced herself from her dad's regime, and she has no risks of favoring kids of her own since she doesn't have any. Bonus: unlike her predecessor, she (officially at least) doesn't run for any religious group. So why not give her a chance? Even if she only criticized her dad indirectly, reluctantly, and faintly. Even if, to this day, we still don't know what she truly thinks. Even if we can't tell if she's running her own show.

Yesterday, when her time to shine came, PARK Geun-hye somehow managed to dodge the call again. She certainly didn't deliver an inspiring acceptance speech: only a few word at her headquarters to announce that she'd go to Gwanghwamun... where she didn't take the stage but received a bouquet before answering a quick victory interview. KIM Yu-na style. The scene should have taken place in Seoul Plaza with the ice rink  in the background instead of King Sejong's statue.

So who stole the TV show yesterday? Gwanghwamun, CHUNG Mong-joon, and Anipang.

. Gwanghwamun? On her way back to Cheong Wa Dae, PARK left her Gangnam base to pause at party HQ, and ultimately Gwanghwamun, the gate to the main palace. All symbols of power were covered, but if anyone doubted it it's now official: Gwanghwamun has reclaimed its status as the ultimate symbol of power for Seoul and Korea. Special mention for King Sejong: his statue seemed to overpower the new president when she made her quick apparition, and his name has also become a political prize in itself (Sejong City, not yet a symbol of power, but the latest province-level, special self-governing city).

. CHUNG Mong-joon? Like King Sejong but sans the smile, he remained seated and silent all the time, yet his giant meditative face dominated the screen. PARK's short presence not even a distraction.

. Anipang? I didn't watch an election night on TV but a silly video game with a screen split between neat rows of Saenuri and DUP characters, and cute PARK and MOON animations reacting to the scores. And when I say "scores", it's just the plain, basic count of votes. The only humans you see are non-expert TV presenters announcing lists of results. Forget about analysis. Forget about pundits and spin rooms. Forget about exit polls telling differences in segments or motivations. It's just a stupid TV show, a countdown where the aim of the game is to guess at what time we have an official winner. I zapped through all the channels and they all did the same, competing only on their 3D animations. They all tried cute things, like that big giant teddy bear walking across Korea (straight from Tottoro), except SBS, which dared a weird concept, travelling through a derelict Korean village abandoned after a war, almost like a shoot'em up scene after all players are gone. Here's newsY's take at Moon discovering his score:




Now what?

In other words: we haven't seen nor learned anything so far. Neither during the campaign, nor afterwards.
 
And we have to give PARK Geun-hye the benefit of the doubt.
 
It's up to her (or to the people who drive the vehicle) to decide where to lead the nation, and what kind of final legacy she wants her family to leave.
 
Let's see how this blank page evolves.

And how history is being written. Including and particularly the past, in school textbooks. 


(ADDENDUM - post egalement repris en Francais sur mes blogules en VF: "De quoi PARK Geun-hye est-elle le nom?" et sur Rue89)
 

Seoul Village 2012
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*  see "Time is up"
** see "Scratch that: Dynasty, Dallas, or the Twilight Zone?"
*** see "25 years later"
****  see "Saenuri, a brand "new" wor(l)d"

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