When North Korea revealed its plans to launch a rocket this month, South Korean president Lee Myung-bak accused Pyongyang of trying to interfere in his country’s December 19 presidential election. But it is not clear how Wednesday’s apparently successful launch will affect the result of the poll, or the victor’s policy towards North Korea. The two leading contenders, Park Geun-hye of Mr Lee’s conservative New Frontier party, and Moon Jae-in of the liberal Democratic United party, have both vowed to pursue fresh negotiations with North Korea if elected. While each condemned the rocket launch as a threat to international security, neither gave any indication of reduced willingness to push for talks aimed at economic co-operation and eventual reunification.
When the popular independent candidate Ahn Cheol-soo pulled out of South Korea’s presidential contest last month, he completely changed the odds in a race that might have marked a new phase in the country’s history. Now only two candidates are still in the running, representing the main conservative and progressive camps, which have been squabbling over power since the end of the dictatorship in the late 1980s. On the right is Park Geun-hye, 60, standing for the ruling New Frontier party, and on the centre-left Moon Jae-in of the opposition Democratic United party.
South Korea’s main opposition party said Monday its candidates, who had been forecast an easy victory, now faced a tight battle with conservatives in the run-up to this week’s general election. The centre-left Democratic United Party (DUP) had been tipped for an easy win in polls on Wednesday, a key test of sentiment before a presidential vote in December, but DUP leader Han Myeong-Sook admits the race is neck-and-neck. “We are now in an emergency situation and seized with a sense of crisis,” Han told reporters. A higher voter turnout would benefit opposition candidates who are more popular among younger voters, the DUP leader said. “If you cast ballots, the people will win. If not, the administration of (President) Lee Myung-Bak will win,” Han said.
South Korean President Lee Myung Bak’s ruling party faces losing control of parliament next week to an opposition that vows to increase welfare spending, revisit a U.S. trade deal and improve ties with North Korea. The New Frontier Party is struggling to overcome bribery and illegal surveillance scandals ahead of April 11’s National Assembly elections that may forecast the December presidential race. The opposition Democratic United Party has pledged to create 3.3 million jobs and may get a boost from younger voters who face an unemployment rate almost twice the national average. Asia’s fourth-largest economy has had slower growth and higher inflation under Lee than his predecessor, contributing to a 50 percent drop in his popularity. Relations have also worsened with North Korea, who plans to fire a long-range rocket between April 12 and 16 would scuttle a food aid agreement with the Obama administration. “An opposition victory will hasten Lee’s position as a lame duck,” said Lee Nae Young, a political science professor at Korea University in Seoul. “Regardless of who wins, we could see many welfare policies enacted before Lee’s term ends, as parties try to improve the odds for December.”