The Home Stretch: #Shigak no. 39

By | May 06, 2017 | No Comments

Polls during the election period suggest that turnout at the upcoming South Korean presidential election will be very high indeed. | Image: KSOI

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.

The Home Stretch: #Shigak no. 39

The election may be mere days away, but it continues to throw up some fascinating stories. In this edition of #Shigak, we look at record-breaking levels of early voting — more than a quarter of those eligible have already voted — and what that might mean for final turnout. There is also news of a legal clash between the Minjoo Party, the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries and private broadcaster SBS, and a veritable tsunami of “confirmation shots” flooding the internet thanks to the relaxation of rules covering election-related photography.

On May 4-5, South Koreans came out in a record numbers to vote early for the 19th presidential election. A practice started in 2014, a total of 26 percent of eligible voters (approx. 11 million out of 42 million eligible) have already cast their vote at a variety of locations, including the main international airport at Incheon. This constitutes a record high and exceeds the 20pp expectation. It is reported that progressive stronghold Jeonnam saw the highest participation rate, with the conservative bastions of Daegu and Busan seeing the lowest. There was also record overseas turnout; citing the National Election Commission, Yonhap reports that no fewer than 71 percent of overseas voters cast ballots (148,225 out of 222,389 registered).

If early voting and overseas voting are a harbinger of things to come — which is not certain — we may see more records broken. Turnout for the 1987 democratic election (the first for the sixth, and current, republic) was 89.2 percent, and the average turnout over the last four elections has been 72.6 percent. Meanwhile, polls indicate voter turnout for this presidential election could exceed 90 percent. Moon Jae-in stands to gain the most from high voter turnout, given that the increase will come primarily from younger age cohorts — 20s and 30s — who are more likely to stay away than their elderly counterparts. The younger age cohorts, polling data show, overwhelmingly favor Moon.

The last phase of the race has not been without controversies. On May 2, one of South Korea’s largest broadcasting companies, SBS, reported that the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries deliberately delayed salvaging Sewol Ferry, which tragically capsized in April of 2013, taking with it 304 of its 476 passengers – mainly high school students. According to SBS, the ministry and Moon made a deal to lift the ferry around the time of the presidential election in exchange for Moon’s support for expanding the ministry. Moon’s campaign protested and SBS quickly retracted the report and apologized.

The director of news, Kim Seong-joon, specifically apologized for SBS’ failure to fulfill its role as a “gatekeeper of truth” in news. Irrespective of the apology, the controversy isn’t expected to go away. Both the Minjoo Party and the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries say they will take legal action.

Controversy has also marred the Liberty Korea Party and its candidate, Hong Joon-pyo. One of Hong’s supporters, who operates a facility for people with disabilities, allegedly mobilized disabled people to participate in his rallies. Furthermore, the Liberty Korea Party’s Kyungnam branch posted a picture of a ballot with a North Korean flag beside number one and three and a South Korean flag beside number two – Hong is number two on the ballot. The picture portrays a vote for Moon Jae-in (no. 1) or Ahn Cheol-soo (no. 3) as equivalent to voting for North Korea and only a vote for Hong (no. 2) as a vote for the Republic of Korea.

The Hong camp, one could say, is grasping at straws with this strategy and only connecting with his already-converted base. There is, however, evidence that anti-Communist propaganda resonates with broad swaths of the population, even if they don’t realize it. Responses from the 2015 Korean Identity Survey show that significant numbers of people from all age cohorts think some form of anti-Communist ideology is necessary. More than 60 percent of people between 19-29 years-old and nearly 90 percent of those 60+ agree.

Korea’s strict regulations covering photography at and around voting locations have been substantially eased this election cycle. Notably, it is now acceptable to publish photos indicating your candidate preference by holding up the requisite number of fingers to the camera (inferring from the above image that the young lady voted for no. 4 of Yoo Seung-min and his embattled Bareun Party), to take a snap of your hand embossed with the red official voting stamp, or to strike a pose in front of the polling station or a poster of your preferred candidate. The result has been a torrent of images appearing online.

Oddly, an ad hoc KBS investigation found divergent implementation of the rules. Polling stations are still controlled locations, and yet, whereas a request to take a “confirmation shot [인증샷]” next to the ballot box at one polling station was flatly denied, at another a local official said that photography is permitted so long as the individual concerned is the only person to appear in the resulting image. In some polling stations it is relatively easy to take pictures, at others it seems to be impossible. Somewhat confusingly, a National Election Commission official whom KBS interviewed anonymously said that polling station officials retain the right to make judgements based on local conditions.