Posted April. 17, 2017 07:20,
Updated April. 17, 2017 07:33
A 22-day official race towards the May 9 presidential election starts on Monday. Twelve candidates including five political parties with National Assembly seats completed candidacy registration for two days on Saturday and Sunday. As a total of 17 candidates, the most ever, are running in this year’s presidential election, the ballot will also be the longest ever at about 30 centimeters. The presidential campaign is already being staged as a tight two-way race between opposition candidates, with main opposition Minjoo Party candidate Moon Jae-in pitted against People’s Party standard-bearer Ahn Cheol-soo. As switch of administrations is highly likely whoever of the two becomes the winner, the traditional confrontation has all but disappeared this time. However, conservatives, who are at loss, still remain undecided as to who to vote for.
According to the result of a Gallup Korea opinion poll conducted over the weekend, the combined approval rating of Korea Freedom Party candidate Hong Joon-pyo and Bareun Party candidate Yoo Seung-min who represent the conservative group only came to 10 percent. Their combined approval rating only amounts to 14 percent even in the Daegu and North Gyeongsang region, dubbed "the hub of conservatives." Even considering that the presidential election is a by-election that follows unprecedented dismissal and arrest of the former president, the situation is so severe that the conservative group is effectively close to extinction.
As the conservative political force has been dismantled, the ideological map of conservatives and liberals in the Korean society is being reshaped. The regional concentration of votes, which was clearly divided between the Jeolla region and the Gyeongsang region in line with their ideological orientations in the past, has disappeared. There is some discrepancy in approval ratings between some generational groups, but the structure of duel between the conservative and the liberal has been noticeably eased. Whoever between Moon and Ahn seizes power, a new political landscape will be formed through meeting and parting, and a reshuffle of the political circle.
Another notable phenomenon is that as the number of political moderates, which would continue to grow previously, is declining, the number of conservatives is increasing. In the Gallup survey, the number of respondents who labeled themselves moderates has declined from 334 to 293 over a week, while the number of conservatives has increased from 236 to 271. These people are agonizing over who to vote for among Ahn (48 percent), Hong (21 percent), and Moon (17 percent). They seem to be agonizing over whether to vote for and help revive a conservative party, or choose between the two dominant candidates.
If these people choose to vote strategically, the most important criterion for choice would be candidates’ views on national security. However, when it comes to national security, both Moon and Ahn cannot be fully trusted. Despite the gravity of the current crisis surrounding the Korean Peninsula, they both say "definitely no to the U.S.’ preemptive strike into North Korea and a war." A leader should demonstrate robust commitment that he or she is willing to risk even a war in order to maintain peace. They are also ambiguous about the deployment of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system by saying reexamination by the next government (Moon) and the candidate in favor of and his party’s platform against it (Ahn).
The forces who support the two candidates also cause new conservatives to be hesitant in making choice as well. Lying behind Moon are anti-American political activist group 86 (people who were born in the 1960s and entered college in the 1980s), and behind Ahn are those who blindly follow the Sunshine Policy of engaging North Korea. Views of national security that the two candidates will have to reveal and their attitude towards the forces surrounding them over the next three weeks will likely determine new conservatives’ voter sentiment, and the ultimate election outcome.