Education, Education, Education: #Shigak no. 29

By | April 08, 2017 | No Comments

Ahn Cheol-soo and his wife, Kim Mi-kyung. The resumes of the pair have been under the microscope in the last 48 hours amidst accusations of preferential hiring practices at two of the leading South Korean universities. | Image: JTBC News YouTube channel

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.

Education, Education, Education: #Shigak no. 29

by Sino-NK

Democratic politics is, at its very core, very simple: you need to appeal to more people than the other candidate. Currently, Ahn Cheol-soo, who has known for a long time that Moon Jae-in has a lock on the bulk of the implacably progressive vote, is trying to do this by adopting a firm stance on national security, highlighting his entrepreneur’s understanding of the complex South Korean digital economy, and in the process attempting to convert a critical mass of flexible conservative voters to his cause.

For some candidates, however, getting elected isn’t at all feasible. Shim Sang-jung, for instance, will never live in the Blue House. Her goal is to set the limits of Korean progressive politics, remain relevant, avoid losing her deposit, and hope that with the arrival of a president more accommodating of her political views, some of her defining policies will make it onto the statute in one form or another.

Along with Shim Sang-jung, this edition of #Shigak sees Ahn Cheol-soo and his wife’s employment record come under the microscope, while the Minjoo Party calls into question the Korean language ability and modern Korean historical knowledge of his daughter, and both Moon and Ahn talk up their plans to move the presidential office.

Justice Party’s Shim Sang-jung is probably the least discussed presidential candidate. She is currently polling at 3.5%; i.e. within the margin of error. Her Justice Party, which has six elected national assembly members and an enthusiastic voter base, positions itself as a true progressive party.  Although she has little chance of becoming South Korea’s Bernie Sanders (a claim once made about Ahn Cheol-soo, before he took to courting the center-right), Shim says she is going to finish the presidential race. During a press conference this week, she called Moon and Ahn status-quo candidates who are unable to reform Korea, and asked for people to come out in support of the progressive side.

There are total of twenty registered presidential candidates. The vast majority are unknowns with no realistic chance of winning anything. However, the public knows of several of them. For example, one of former President Lee Myung-bak’s confidants, Lee Jae-oh, and a former head of the South Korean state intelligence service, Nam Jae-joon are both running. As mentioned in #Shigak no. 27, Kim Jong-in is also running for the top job. Their motivations are not clear, but we can assume that they hope to garner enough support to have a voice in shaping the next administration.

In accordance with the rules of the electoral game, the better Ahn Cheol-soo’s poll numbers get, the more intense the attacks against him become. As noted in the next dollop of analysis, some wish to paint Ahn as a puppet of the reviled Park Ji-won, and others as an establishment candidate who is incapable of bringing real change. There are also concerns that in the event Ahn wins the election by wooing the conservative swing vote — his current strategy — he will then have to satisfy the resulting coalition, which will limit his capacity for progressive domestic reform.

In any event, the last 48 hours have seen Ahn come under attack as an elite unqualified to manage domestic education policy. It is claimed that Ahn received preferential treatment when hired by KAIST in 2008 and Seoul National University in 2011, and that his wife, Kim Mi-kyung, was an underqualified 1+1 on both deals. Additionally, it is alleged that Ahn’s daughter may not have learned modern Korean history, or know how to speak Korean properly due to an extended period in the United States. Finally, Ahn is accused of receiving expensive private classes at home during the 1970s. Education is an extremely emotive issue in South Korea; all the accusations are combustible, and Ahn will have to deflect them if his rise in the polls is to continue.

With the end of all the major primary elections, the presidential campaign is taking on a more negative tone. Most notably, Moon Jae-in and Ahn Cheol-soo have been throwing jabs at each other, all the more so as the polls show that both men have a winning shot at the top job.

As Ahn continues to climb in the polls, all the other candidates are increasingly targeting him. Moon framed Ahn as an establishment candidate who needs to be cleaned up. Ahn’s campaign, in turn, suggested that Moon is ideologically driven and similar to former President Park Geun-hye. Even the Liberal Korea Party candidate, Hong Joon-pyo jumped in to criticize Ahn. Hong portrayed Ahn as a puppet of Park Ji-won, the powerful (and widely distrusted) chair of the People’s Party. With the election date now so close, the race will likely become even more negative.

Both the leading candidates agree that moving the presidential office (집무실) from the Blue House (청와대, rather than 청화대, as in the above image) is a necessary step for the next president to take. This issue is not new; it was initially raised in the early days of January and has come up several times since.

Moon Jae-in’s proposal is to move the presidential office a kilometer or so south to Seoul government complex at Gwanghwamun (to “open the era of the Gwanghwamun president“) where he hopes it will be more accessible to the people. In keeping with the legacy of the late President Roh Moo-hyun, Moon’s stated aim is to enhance public participation in South Korean democracy. Ahn Cheol-soo, meanwhile, proposes to move the presidential office five hundred meters from the Blue House to the office building in which the leader’s secretariat is housed (비서동/비서실 건물), a proposal concerned more with rationalising administrative structures by putting the boss in a better position to exercise oversight and issue orders to his staff.