Bringing the Humans Back in: #Shigak no. 31

By | April 13, 2017 | No Comments

The background to Moon Jae-in’s Facebook page. Much of Moon’s work these last few days has appeared right there online. | Image: Moon Jae-in campaign

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.

Bringing the Humans Back in: #Shigak no. 31

by Sino-NK

As #Shigak was going to press, the first of South Korea’s presidential debates took place, with the five major candidates pitting their wits against one another for two and a half hours on SBS. More on this and future debates in upcoming editions of #Shigak, but in the meantime this edition has more on the leading candidates’ environmental policies; discussion of Moon Jae-in’s attempt to seize control of the national narrative on national defense and the economy; and a reminder that although Ahn Cheol-soo is certainly rising fast, Moon Jae-in continues to ride high.

Moon Jae-in put forward his policy proposals to combat South Korea’s appalling spring air quality problems. He declared that if elected he will seek to ameliorate the country’s high levels of airborne particulate matter by reducing emissions by 30% at home. This will be done by shutting down ageing coal-fired power plants in the spring, closing ten of the oldest ones before existing plans require, rejecting planning permission for new ones, and revisiting nine more new ones that are underway but less than 10% complete. Moon also revealed planned changes to the private car market.

Like Ahn Cheol-soo, Moon would also seek to work closely with China, where a significant amount of the particulate matter that afflicts Seoul and other parts of Korea in the spring originates — a non-trivial volume of it from South Korean factories on the Shandong peninsula. This aspect of Moon’s platform would include upgrading the level of existing discussions on the issue.

Political success can be as much about momentum as about policy. Several thinly worded policy pronouncements can be sufficient to carry the audience for a spell, and once support starts to come a candidate’s way, it brings more of the same. The process then continues until hindered by countervailing forces that harm the candidate and drive swing voters elsewhere.

Ahn Cheol-soo has done extraordinarily well in the last fortnight on precisely these grounds. He began to close in on Moon Jae-in, and then overtook him in some polls. This brought Ahn a mountain of media coverage, and the People’s Party a degree of electoral credibility that helped it to transcend its regional roots in the southwest. A recent JTBC interview with Park Ji-won, whom many single out as the power behind Ahn’s throne, highlights the point.

However, it is very easy to get carried away. As in the tweeted poll, Moon Jae-in actually still tends to win most polls, most of the time, albeit not by much. This visualization of recent polling data by Steven Denney aggregates out to victory for Ahn, and suggests that he has the vital component, momentum, on his side. But Moon still won in eight out of the twelve polls taken between April 4 and 9. Indeed, the tweeted poll shows Moon actually gaining support between poll one on April 4 and poll two a week later (40.8% >>> 42.3%). Though Ahn made even greater gains in the same period (30.9% >>> 37%), that still leaves him more than five points down on the frontrunner (on this occasion).

Following his security policy video statement (see below), Moon Jae-in revealed the brushstrokes of his economic policy. He promises to place the focus squarely on “human-centered economic growth.” He will essentially reject trickle-down economics premised on the continual growth of South Korea’s large corporations, and simultaneously increase government spending to create jobs. Moon promises to increase government spending by an average of 7% per year, up from 3.5%. Overall, his economic plan is to invest more in people and the social security system.

Hankyoreh recently compared the Moon and Ahn economic platforms. The newspaper’s analysis shows that a Moon administration would play a more active role in the market than an Ahn one. A Moon government wants to increase spending and create 810,000 jobs in the public sector, while an Ahn administration places the responsibility for job creation onto the private sector. Moon is planning a big government approach; conversely, Ahn plans to foster greater private dynamism, a point of difference that he rammed home on April 13 by introducing market-based reform plans for the telecoms sector. In terms of economic policy, at least, there seems to be a genuine contrast between the two.

Whether it is fair criticism or not, Moon Jae-in is viewed by many as soft on national security. Perhaps in order to combat this appearance, Moon announced that THAAD may be necessary if North Korea continues its nuclear provocations. Additionally, on April 10, Moon released a video statement on the current security situation in Northeast Asia. In it, he declares himself to be the candidate best positioned to deal with China, North Korea and the U.S. He even states that the Kim-Jong-un regime will fear his presidency more than any other.

Elsewhere, conservative Liberal Korea Party candidate Hong Joon-pyo vehemently criticized Moon for flip-flopping on the THAAD issue.