And It Was All Yellow: #Shigak no. 33

By | April 19, 2017 | No Comments

Yellow lights are raised aloft as British rock band Coldplay commemorates the Sewol sinking during the playing of their hit song, “Yellow.” The band gave a concert in Seoul on the anniversary of the disaster. | Image: dmsqlc46 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.

And It Was All Yellow: #Shigak no. 33

by Sino-NK

If a picture paints a thousand words, then campaign posters are an important medium for conveying vital political messages in the 20 days between now and the presidential election on May 9. Perhaps mindful that less can indeed be more, Ahn Cheol-soo released the most impressive campaign poster of the year this week, and that leads our latest edition of #Shigak. Additionally, we have the third anniversary of the sinking of the Sewol and the enormously touching tribute paid to the disaster by the British rock band Coldplay; presidential candidate lists; and the release of campaign funding from the state.

The presidential candidates came out with their first campaign posters on Monday, with Ahn Cheol-soo’s minimalist, eye-catching composition widely regarded as the most artistically creative offering in a staid and predictable genre. The best indication of the Ahn poster’s potential impact has been the criticism it promptly attracted from the Minjoo Party.

First posters of the South Korean presidential candidates. Ahn Cheol-soo is number three (top right). | Image: NEC

Son Hye-won, a lawmaker with the party of leading candidate Moon Jae-in commented via SNS, “The face in the picture is somewhat different to Ahn Cheol-soo’s face.” Son went on to claim that Ahn’s likeness could itself be a composition of multiple parts, and called the final result “awkward.”

Then, on Tuesday, prime minister under the administration of the late Roh Moo-hyun from 2004-6 and chair of the Minjoo Party’s election committee, Lee Hae-chan went a step further. He branded the Ahn poster a violation of the spirit of the constitution because it does not show the name of the party (국민의당; People’s Party in English). Lee argues that because each party receives campaign funding from the state, not the candidate him or herself, campaign posters must bear the name of the party.

However, while Lee’s argument gained traction in the media, it appears to be groundless in reality. Indeed, Lee himself only claimed that the poster violates the spirit of the constitution, not the letter. People’s Party received approximately USD 7.6m in campaign finance from the state. The Minjoo Party received approximately USD 10.8m

With the presidential race heating up, South Korea marked the third anniversary of the Sewol sinking, wherein, on April 16, 2014, a group of Danwon high school students were among the 304 people killed when the ferry sank en route for Jeju Island. Ever since the disaster, questions have been raised regarding what really happened. The administration of former President Park Geun-hye faced fierce criticism of its handling of the investigation following the tragedy. In a rare show of solidarity, most of the presidential candidates came together in a ceremony to honor the victims. Moon Jae-in, Shim Sang-jung and Ahn Cheol-soo have each pledged to thoroughly investigate the sinking, while Yoo Seung-min has not promised a special investigation but has pledged that the disaster will not be repeated. Hong Joon-pyo was alone in not attending the event at all.

That evening, British band Coldplay paid a moving tribute to the victims during a concert in Seoul. Playing their hit song “Yellow,” the band stopped and proposed ten seconds of silence. It was a fitting tribute: the Sewol disaster is commemorated by the wearing of a yellow ribbon.

Following two last minute registrations, 15 candidates officially registered to run in South Korea’s May 9 presidential election. The numbers have dropped since the preliminary registration of 20 candidates, but nonetheless, the presidential election will still feature more candidates than any other in South Korean history.

Registrations closed on April 16 and the presidential candidates launched their campaigns on April 17. The first official day of campaigning showed that the candidates are trying to both cover their weaknesses and consolidate their gains. For instance, Moon Jae-in started his campaign in the conservative fortress of Daegu with a promise to become a unifying president. Ahn Cheol-soo began his campaign promoting maritime safety in Incheon — fitting given the anniversary of the Sewol — and then moved to Honam where his People’s Party swept elections in 2016. Hong Joon-pyo started his campaign in markets in Seoul and Daegu, portraying himself as a man of the people. Yoo Seung-min focused on Seoul, Incheon and cities near Seoul, venturing out of his political base, Daegu, while Shim Sang-jung met with workers and promised once more to reform the nation and economy.

State financing for the presidential campaign was dispersed on April 18. Under South Korean law, the state provides funding based upon the number of lawmakers each party has in the National Assembly. Accordingly, the Minjoo Party received the largest amount of funding (USD 10.8m), followed by Liberal Korea Party (a re-badged Saenuri Party, which was the largest party in the legislature until the creation of the splinter Bareun Party late last year), then People’s Party, Bareun Party, and finally the Justice Party of Shim Sang-jung, which received just USD 2.41m.

As this YTN explainer highlights, initial campaign funding from the state only covers a modest proportion of all campaign costs. The rest is eligible for reimbursement after the election, but is dependent on performance.