Anti-Communism and the Rule of Law: #Shigak no. 30

By | April 11, 2017 | No Comments

Moon Jae-in in conversation with Ohmynews journalists. | Image: Ohmynews TV 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.

Anti-Communism and the Rule of Law: #Shigak no. 30

by Sino-NK

For the first three or four decades of its history as a separate state, South Korean politics and society were defined primarily by anti-communism. Other policies and approaches to governance were layered on top, but underneath it all was a firm foundation of implacable opposition to everything that North Korea stood for. Despite protestations to the contrary, the same is no longer true — today South Korean society is more complex than that — but the spectre of North Korea has not, for obvious reasons, disappeared.

In this edition of #Shigak, we look at: a legal battle between a conservative former activist and sitting lawmaker, Ha Tae-kyung, and a group of progressive lawyers over what it means to suggest someone is pro-North Korea; Moon Jae-in’s attempts to remind the voting public that only he truly understands the hardships of working people; new polling that, by some measures, shows Ahn Cheol-soo now ahead of Moon; and environmental concerns, which have emerged as a serious campaign issue in this unusual year, when the presidential election takes place in spring. At this time of year, locally produced dust and smog mixes with nastiness coming in from the Shandong peninsula to leave an indelible mark on the minds — and lungs — of many.

Lawyers for a Democratic Society (Minbyun), a group of left-leaning lawyers won a court case against Bareun Party lawmaker Ha Tae-kyung, a controversial former leader in the North Korean human rights movement who has been a conservative lawmaker in the South Korean legislature since 2012. The judge found Ha guilty of defaming Minbyun in a post on Facebook in which he declared that there are pro-North Korea elements within Minbyun. The term Ha used was “bukbyeon,” a fusion of North Korea (bukhan) and lawyer (byeonhosa). The judge concluded that Ha’s comments were to imply that Minbyun is dangerous and acts against the established order. He was told to compensate the group to the tune of five million Korean Won, approximately $4400. This is the second time the case had gone to court; on the first occasion, Ha won.

Meanwhile, Ha is facing further legal action over claims about Moon Jae-in’s son that the Minjoo Party has denied. A spokesperson for Moon demanded that Ha “throw away his recorder that keeps blasting fake news,” in a press briefing on April 11.

The left-leaning OhmynewsTV broadcast an interview with Moon Jae-in on May 9, in which he sought to reaffirm his credentials as the only presidential candidate capable of representing ordinary working people in South Korea. Moon pointed to leading competitor Ahn Cheol-soo’s affluent upbringing as evidence of an inability to relate to non-elite groups in society. Additionally, he took the chance to downplay the notion of a progressive-conservative divide in Korean politics, asserting that popular disgust at the antics of the political class has, particularly in recent months, cut across political lines — which is true, but only up to a point — and declared that if he does not win the presidency at the second attempt on May 9, he will retire from front line politics.

According to a Yonhap News’ poll conducted on April 8-9, Ahn Cheol-soo is now at 36.8%, ahead of Moon Jae-in on 32.7% in a five-way race. A Chosun Ilbo poll also shows Ahn at 34.4%, ahead of his rival at 32.2% in a six-way race. Although the two polls do not necessarily mean that Ahn is more popular than Moon, it does seem to show that he is gaining traction, specifically among right-leaning voters.

A deeply conservative pundit and biographer of former President Park Chung-hee, Cho Gab-jae encouraged people to vote for Ahn on May 9. Former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s fan club also officially announced their support for Ahn. With the election one month away, it is too early to say that Ahn is the conservatives’ favored candidate; however, it can be said that he is a byproduct of conservative divisions. Recently, pro-Park politician Cho Won-jin left the Liberal Korea Party and joined the Saenuri Party, which has been resurrected by pro-Park supporters. Cho indicated that he is interested in running in the upcoming presidential election, adding another name to a crowded conservative field.

For the past few years, fine dust has become a serious health and environmental problem in Korea. During spring, as fine dust blows in from China to the Korean peninsula, it is not uncommon to see people wearing masks in their daily lives. On April 8, Ahn Cheol-soo announced that he will combat this problem and try to achieve “spring without a mask.”

Ahn’s policy measures include putting the “fine dust” problem within the remit of national disaster management. He also promises to upgrade South Korea’s fine dust measurement systems to international standards. In addition, he promised to launch a concerted policy of environmental diplomacy with China to both accurately study and ultimately resolve the problem. As this year’s presidential election was called earlier than originally scheduled, the candidates were not able to adequately prepare their policy platforms. Here, Ahn has put forward a major policy, and the remaining days of the campaign will see other candidates hastily putting together their own platforms.