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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 Seok-youl, 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 Seok-youl 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
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* see "AHN Cheol-soo joins YOON Seok-youl"

** see "A new MOON Jae-in?"  

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