TOKYO – This is a year of presidential elections worldwide, and the last to take place – on December 19 – will be in South Korea. That ballot, however, is already having an international impact, in part because South Korea’s failure to ratify an important new intelligence-sharing treaty with Japan is widely seen as a result of campaign politics. But the election may well have a more positive impact on the region as a whole.
On July 10, the frontrunner, Park Geun-hye of the ruling Saenuri (New Frontier) Party, became the first to announce her candidacy. In addition to other opposition candidates, much attention has focused on Ahn Cheol-soo, Dean of the Graduate School of Convergence Science and Technology at Seoul National University, who is a successful entrepreneur and a charismatic figure for South Korea’s young and independent voters.
But it is Park who has so far stimulated the greatest interest. There is great anticipation among conservative voters, in particular, concerning her policy toward North Korea, a country that continues to be as unpredictable as ever. (Witness Kim Jong-un’s sudden dismissal of senior military officer Ri Yong-ho, anointment of himself as a marshal, and revelation that he had married a woman first glimpsed when she accompanied him to a concert featuring appearances by Disney’s Mickey and Minnie Mouse.) So far, Park, sensing that the electorate trusts her foreign-policy instincts, has kept her North Korea cards close to her chest.
For many South Koreans, Park is a tragic heroine. Both her mother and her father, President Park Chung-hee, were assassinated, in 1974 and 1979, respectively. Indeed, her father was murdered by his own intelligence chief, KCIA Director Kim Jaegyu.