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Thursday, March 10, 2022

YSY does it?

Every five year, I have the same dream: that Korea switches to a two-round system for its presidential elections, which would not only reflect more accurately the diversity of opinions, but also result in mergers much more transparent, fair, and based on policies. But no. As usual, we witnessed last minute, winner-takes-all mergers between individuals. And as usual, the dozen-plus roster boiled down to two heavyweights snatching 95% of the cake. 

I wish SIM Sang-jun had raised the issue during her otherwise perfect concession speech. She did claim 800k votes and AHN Cheol-soo at least one third of that even without running (judging by the 300k invalid votes due to last minute withdrawals), but both would have scored much much higher otherwise, forcing main candidates to move closer to the center before the second round.

If none of the polls that followed the YOON-AHN alliance* were made public because they were too close to the elections, they all put the opposition candidate ahead by two to seven points. Yet YOON eventually finished only less than 250k votes ahead of LEE - less than what he gained in Seoul alone:

The capital city confirmed its 2021 rejection of a ruling party that lost not only key strongholds there, but also 4 of the 5 assembly seats in play nationwide on the same election night (by a much wider margin than for the presidential election).

Absolutely not Trumpian on that one, LEE Jae-myung conceded very gracefully. He would have had a difficult time trying to contest the score after the troubling incidents in Seoul, Gyeonggi-do, or Jeju-do that cast serious doubts about electoral integrity. The nation could even have faced a major crisis if LEE had won very narrowly. MOON Jae-in and the controversial head of the National Election Commission NOH Jeong-hee did apologize for the 'incidents', but they involved officials who had to be more than aware of the existential threat their behavior represented for democracy, and they looked disturbingly consistent with the extreme episodes witnessed during the administration's attacks on justice.

Hopefully, this closer than expected final gap was mainly due to the ruling party's last ditch mobilization of its formidable turnout machine combined with a weakened motivation on the other side: AHN guaranteed YOON's win, why vote for such an uninspiring candidate?

By all means, YOON Suk-yeol, a reluctant politician, was not a good candidate. And he was far from always a candidate for good.

I disagree with many elements of the candidate's program, but I want him to deliver the goods on one key front: democracy, justice, the constitution.

Korea needs the YOON who, as a student under the dictatorship, led a trial of CHUN Doo-hwan.

Korea needs the YOON who, in 2013, was suspended for refusing to stop investigating the meddling of LEE Myung-bak's secret services into the 2012 presidential elections.

Korea needs the YOON who joined the team that prosecuted PARK Geun-hye.

Korea needs the YOON MOON Jae-in handpicked as his Eliot Ness to lead the nation prosecutors and justice reform, and who said no when MOON told him to stop investigating Cho Kuk or Cheong Wa Dae corruption.

Korea needs the YOON whom both the extreme left and the extreme right hate. 

And that YOON would better show up. Five years ago**, Korea needed the MOON who stood for democracy, and ended up with another one who undermined it. This divided nation can't afford another betrayal.

YOON's one mission as a candidate was to kick the ruling party out of Cheong Wa Dae, and that will be done when the transition is over. As a president-elect, his mission will be to gather a team that can inspire voters for the upcoming legislative elections, but also reach across the aisle, to moderates among a hostile assembly. 

Very transparent about his lack of experience as a politician, the man has a reputation to delegate a lot, to let pros do their job, and to take full responsibility. YSY does it. So casting will be key.

Candidate YOON needed the People Power Party to run and AHN Cheol-soo to win, President YOON simply can't succeed with the PPP platform. And clearly, there's no way he can unite the nation if he keeps including LEE Jun-seok's anti-feminist agenda. Ideally, that young lad should be the first one to be shown the door, and AHN Cheol-soo should lead the transition team.

I'm not forgetting another essential role of the President: representing and defending the nation in these very troubled times. And Russia's invasion of Ukraine already impacted the campaign and the region:

  • not very good news for a nuclear-free peninsula: another motive for North Korea to keep its weaponry, another motive for South Korea to revive its civil program (MOON Jae-in even had the gall to say the nuclear energy he's been dismantling for years was strategic for the nation's future....)
  • not very good news for Yankees-Go-Home cheerleaders: while LEE Jae-myung struggled with his base, YOON Suk-yeol could herald the alliance full throttle. Joe Biden didn't even wait for concession or acceptance speeches to congratulate his preferred (and fellow gaffe-a-day) candidate.
  • not very good news for XI Jinping's plans to invade Taiwan. And now he knows bullies can be bullied. XI has yet to congratulate a man who made no mystery about where he stands between the US and China.
  • good news for the Korea-Japan dialog: YOON sent clear, positive signals. Let's hope his sense of justice will make him nonetheless stand for the last survivors of Imperial Japan's sexual slavery system, who can't wait for another term.

Tensions are likely to exacerbate in the region because of Putin's war, but much of the ambiguity will be gone, which may paradoxically be helpful for some meaningful diplomacy (including why not with North Korea). Interesting to see how existing and new alliances evolve or take shape.

On all fronts, please, more pragmatism and common sense, less ideology (yes,
that includes you, Milton Friedman).

Please, more transparency, more accountability.

As usual, I'll be keeping a critical eye on the rulers. With cautious hope.

Seoul Village 2022
Welcome to our Korean Errlines! Follow Seoul Village on Facebook and Twitter, follow me on Instagram.
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* see "AHN Cheol-soo joins YOON Suk-yeol"

** see "A new MOON Jae-in?"  

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

AHN Cheol-soo joins YOON Suk-yeol

Last night, following the last presidential debate, AHN Cheol-soo decided to stop his campaign and give his full support to YOON Suk-yeol. Expected almost from the start*, this move was postponed until the last possible moment to mark AHN's ballot papers, even if voting has already started overseas.

"Ahn Cheol-soo and Yoon Seok-youl in joint presser to announce campaign merger" (20220303 - @theSeoulVillage)

AhnLab founder lifts YOON's candidacy on such key issues as innovation, economy, education, or health. Mostly, he brings guarantees about his capacity to unite around the center, and to mobilize younger generations.

A reluctant candidate and a mediocre campaigner, YOON hesitated a long time before joining the PPP, an irrelevant opposition party where he had to compose with obsolete paleo-conservatives on one extreme and aggressive young anti-feminists on the other: PARK Geun-hye supporters never forgave him his role in her imprisonment, and LEE Jun-seok excels at dragging his candidacy down. Today, YOON was obviously relieved to see AHN unlock the shackles and help him focus on what matters most to him: healing Korean democracy, starting with justice.

The first mission of the united ticket is to prevent LEE Jae-myung from reaching power. Protected by the government, the controversial populist was able to cruise during the campaign without fear of being investigated in the Daejang-dong scandal. And if the family of the women murdered by his nephew (whom he defended during the trial) sued him for dismissing the double murder as 'dating violence', this most Trumpian character played the clock by delaying his answers to the judge beyond the legal limits, pushing the next steps until after the elections. 

Imagine what this man could do if he reached presidency and enjoyed the total impunity created by the ruling party's most outrageous reform: the de facto end of oversight of the executive power and the creation of the highly controversial Corruption Investigation Office, which was instantly weaponized to harass YOON and to protect Cheong Wa Dae from embarrassing scandals.

On that one, MOON clearly insulted ROH Moo-hyun's memory: the late president, a man who genuinely cared for democracy and justice, would have been appalled by a move that also betrayed the spirit of 2016, when the population overwhelmingly called for a defense of both, and the respect of separation of powers.

Beyond LEE and Trump, I often make a parallel between Korea's ruling party and the US Republican party. Both have lost their way on what used to make them most respectable. Both need to lose in 2022 if they don't want to lose their souls. And both need to humbly return to the drawing board (preferably not to push for more gerrymandering or deceitful schemes).

It may sound indecent to talk about existential threat when thousands die in Ukraine under Russian aggression, but this time, Korea must get it right, and heal from its core. And its center.

Seoul Village 2022
Welcome to our Korean Errlines! Follow Seoul Village on Facebook and Twitter, follow me on Instagram.
Download 'Seoul VillageS', the free ebook.
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* and not even one year after AHN's merger with OH Se-hoon ("After OH Se-hoon's Hangang Renaissance, Who In 2022?")

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