Mind the Gap: #Shigak no. 28

By | April 06, 2017 | No Comments

On April 2, Sino-NK began a series of regular analyses looking at the South Korean presidential election through the lens of the Korean-language media, reviving a series that ran from February 2014 to October 2015. “Shigak” (시각), or “perspective” uses Twitter to curate sources on the key determinants of the election outcome. Each issue takes the most important tweets posted by Sino-NK analysts under the #시각 hashtag and augments them with essential annotations and a bite-size dollop of concentrated analysis.

Sino-NK will publish brand new #Shigak analyses three times a week between now and the election on May 9. #Shigak is edited by Steven Denney and Christopher Green. Yongmin Lee is a regular contributor. Back issues can be found on the dedicated page. Importantly, users of Twitter are encouraged to adopt the hashtag and take part in the project.

Mind the Gap: #Shigak no. 28

by Sino-NK

Since the parliamentary elections of 2016, South Korea has had three competitive parties: the main opposition Democratic Party (currently Minjoo Party), the People’s Party, and the ruling Saenuri Party. Under ordinary circumstances, the People’s Party, which is identified as center-left, would siphon votes from the main opposition Minjoo and poach a few center-right voters from Saenuri. It wouldn’t, however, compete on the same level as the main opposition or ruling parties. But these aren’t ordinary conditions.

Amidst the scandal fallout, the conservative party split and any chance of an immediate conservative revival was vanquished when Ban Ki-moon withdrew his name from contention. Aside from Ban, the conservative block’s only moderately popular candidate, the acting president, Hwang Kyo-ahn, has refused to run. Korea Liberty Party’s (formerly Saenuri) candidate and stalwart conservative, Hong Joon-pyo, is the only competitive conservative left, and recent polling data on presidential hopefuls has him sitting at a cool 10 percent, 28pp behind the frontrunner, Moon Jae-in, and 24pp behind Moon’s challenger, Ahn Cheol-soo.

Moon Jae-in, who many thought was a shoe-in for the presidency a few weeks ago, suddenly finds himself in a tight race. Ahn Cheol-soo, the People Party’s candidate, appears to be picking up support among liberals who think Moon isn’t fit to lead and center-right voters who know that conservatives don’t stand a chance. In 2012, Moon and Ahn battled for the right to represent the main opposition party against Park Geun-hye (Moon eventually won out). They are locked in another tight battle, except this time Ahn will be sticking around for the vote.

This installment of #Shigak reviews some of the most recent developments in the Ahn-Moon race, in addition to a Chosun Ilbo interview with the PR savvy former US ambassador to South Korea.

Ahn Cheol-soo has closed what was once a 22pp deficit with presidential frontrunner Moon Jae-in. In fact, in a hypothetical two-person race, Ahn out-duels Moon by a comfortable margin. In a more realistic three-way hypothetical, Ahn is either beating Moon or trailing an amount that is within the margin of error. If one of the current conservative candidates drops out, or opts for a coalition, Ahn could become the presidential favorite. At the very least, the race would become a toss-up.

For now, however, all candidates have vowed to stand pat. In five-way hypotheticals, which assumes all current candidates run, Moon leads Ahn by ~4pp.

On March 6 lawmaker Lee On-joo announced, “I am going to the People’s Party, and will help Ahn Cheol-soo.” Lee doesn’t constitute a high-profile defection, but the timing and the symbolism of a Minjoo lawmaker leaving the main opposition for the upstart People Party’s won’t be lost on voters, or the media.

The two parties aren’t particularly far apart on the left-right ideological scale and with weak party institutionalization in South Korea, the likelihood of Minjoo Party defections has risen with Ahn’s closing of the gap.

The right-leaning Chosun Ilbo conducted an interview with former US ambassador to South Korea, Mark Lippert. Lippert was asked whether he is worried that the next South Korean administration holds anti-American attitudes. Lippert’s answer was, in short, no. He thinks America currently has good standing in South Korea and most of the presidential candidates are pro-American.

Although the interview talks great deal about the candidates, it omits the issue of THAAD deployment, a hot-button issue which liberals candidates have danced gingerly around. Critics charge that the South Korean government and the US military have sped up the deployment of the anti-missile defense system in order to have major components installed before the next administration takes power.