Column: The South Korean presidential election is a triumph for democracy | Opinion
South Korean voters elected Yoon Suk-yeol of the conservative People Power Party as their next leader. He will take office in May, succeeding President Moon Jae-in, after defeating Lee Jae-myung of the ruling Democratic Party. Under the constitution, the president serves a single five-year term and cannot be re-elected.
The preparation for the March 9 vote involved a dirty and intense campaign. Negative publicity and personal invective relentlessly defined the contest, crowding out more serious political discussion.
South Korea is a world leader in advanced telecommunications and computer technologies of all kinds. Average internet speeds are among the fastest in the world
Bizarre computer-generated images called “deepfakes” were prominent, used by the candidates’ supporters and opponents. Young, fashionable political staffers have spearheaded these new efforts, which are unusual compared to traditional political media.
Thanks to technology, the conservative and intimidating prosecutor Yoon appeared flexible, literally animated. This may have deflected some criticism from the opposition, notably that he is anti-feminist.
In the end, the election was the closest since South Korea gained a truly representative government in the 1980s. Yoon won 48.56 percent of the vote, Lee 47.83 percent.
The Democratic Party alliance retains a large legislative majority and Yoon will have to compromise to achieve meaningful political success. During the campaign, he promised a tougher line on North Korea and closer relations with the United States. These are changes of degree, not of kind.
The media’s focus on the unpleasant nature of the campaign overlooks the more important fact that voters have collectively reconfirmed South Korea’s law-abiding democracy. Considerable credit for this continuity goes to the leadership of outgoing South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
In late 2018, the influential Asia News Network named President Moon “Person of the Year”. South Korea’s chief executive is rightly receiving praise for initiating a dialogue between the United States and North Korea during Donald Trump’s presidential tenure.
This realization is too easily simplified and minimized. In late 2017, Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un were trading crude and personal insults via global media.
Moon’s behind-the-scenes work not only restrained, but also reversed this sad and silly situation. He insisted on meeting the North Korean delegation at the Winter Olympics held in February 2018 in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The group included Kim’s sister, an influential figure in the regime.
General Park Chung-hee’s dictatorship imprisoned Moon for his anti-regime activism. Later, he pursued a career in human rights law. He also served in the Republic of Korea (ROK) Army Special Forces and fought in the DMZ (demilitarized zone) along the 38th parallel.
Military ties between South Korea and the United States are vitally important and often overlooked. There is a particularly close and long-standing collaboration between the armies of our two nations. During the long Vietnam War, South Korea maintained around 50,000 troops in South Vietnam.
A large percentage of this total were combat troops. The soldiers of the Republic of Korea Army have developed a deserved reputation for combat effectiveness. South Korea at the time had no substantial economic investment in South Vietnam.
This commitment to the United States dates from the Korean War of 1950 to 1953. This war made the Cold War global, no longer centered solely on divided Germany.
President Harry Truman immediately acted decisively to commit the United States to defend South Korea when North Korean forces invaded in June 1950. President Dwight Eisenhower acted skillfully and ruthlessly in intensifying the bombardment to obtain the armistice of 1953.
The courage of these American presidents resonates today.
Arthur I. Cyr is the author of “After the Cold War”. Contact him at [email protected]