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Christmas Prez

December 19, 2012

Park Geun-hye & Moon Jae-in

The good people of the Republic of Korea will go to the polls later today* to elect themselves a new President. As well as being a national holiday to facilitate voter turnout, it will also be my birthday and my thoughts aren’t likely to be all that focused on the results of the two-horse race for high office but I offer a few thoughts here nonetheless.

I’m aiming for the polite neutrality that I feel is appropriate for a foreign guest worker. I have no vote, no say, and thus should have no dog in the fight, as it were. However, although I would welcome the election of Korea’s first female elected leader, in a country that could do with a few bold strides toward greater gender equality, I personally don’t believe the daughter of a dictator should be pursuing the highest office in what is after all a nascent democracy with a few too many lingering habits from its authoritarian past. For those unaware, Park is the daughter of Park Chung-hee, the Korean army general who seized power in a coup d’état in 1961 and oversaw the miraculous economic growth and rapid industrialization of the time, ruling via widespread political repression and human rights abuses, before being assassinated in 1979. The man’s legacy now remains a profoundly ambiguous one in the collective Korean consciousness. Many older, more conservative, Koreans especially view Park as a great man who transformed South Korea from  the decimated ruins of the post-Korean War period into the rich, developed nation it is today. As one said to me recently with a smile, “when I was 14-years-old President Park said that in ten years time all Koreans would have a home, drive a car and own a refrigerator. I didn’t believe him.” On the other hand, younger Koreans, and middle-aged Koreans on the left who were involved in the political struggle for democracy in the 1980s, remain indignant at the memory of the dictatorships that afflicted Korea for decades and are, of course, hostile to the conservative political entities of today, including the current administration of President Lee Myung-bak and his “Saenuri” (“New Frontier”) Party, of which Park Geun-hye was herself formerly a leader.

Although Park was very young at the time of her father’s assassination, and wasn’t involved in his authoritarian rule of the Republic of Korea, her standing as a candidate in the Presidential election, and seemingly enjoying a very slight lead in the polls over her rival, the liberal Democratic United Party’s Moon Jae-in, is politically insanitary given her ineradicable connection to the late strongman, and represents a step back for the country overall.

(*I had originally said “tomorrow” but it turned midnight as I was typing. )

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