Bridge Over Murky Waters: The 2012 Korean Presidential Election

When I worked for Hillary Clinton during the 2008 presidential primaries, our camp truly thought she would clinch the Democratic nomination, and go on to win the presidency to become our first female president. That didn’t work out, but we did elect our first black president. Great ordeal and I’m mighty proud of it.

South Korea just elected its first female president, surprisingly before we did. This feat is to be congratulated on its face. Park Geun-hye – whether or not people actually think of her as a woman – is indeed a woman. Many take issue with the fact that she is the daughter of former dictator (yes, not president, not strongman, but dictator, say it loud and clear) Park Jung-hee. I, too, take some issue with that fact, although not as extremely as others. Although the former dictator did arguably lay the groundwork for Korea’s exponential economic growth, he did so by maintaining his power using undemocratic and illegal means, to say the least. I hardheartedly disagree with the notion of focusing on the past and on a candidate’s lineage (which she had minimal control over) instead of focusing strictly on policy issues moving forward. However, this point, in my view, was overlooked to a great extent.

What I do take serious issue with is the way in which this election cycle was conducted. I will not (yet) use the term “rigged”. I will, however, discuss one of many fishy incidents that has already thrown this election into murky waters.

Let’s coin this incident as “The Online Crusaders”. The Cliffnotes version of the story is this. Saenuri, the ruling party of president-elect Park, allegedly hired a protestant pastor and a number of part-time workers, with the sole mission of “rigging” the social media arena. The pastor and his minions allegedly posted tweets and replies under fake aliases, intentionally (and allegedly falsely) accusing candidate Moon Jae-in of various wrongdoings. In addition, Korea’s National Intelligence Service (counterpart to our FBI) allegedly had an entire office dedicated to fabricating social media messages in favor of Park and against Moon. And what the hell was that about the NIS employee locking herself in her Gangnam condominium for days while she was suspected of participating in these acts? NIS agents, supposedly the cream of the crop of Korea’s intelligence community, allegedly hired to sit in front of computer monitors to tweet. Simply embarrassing.

I use the term “allegedly” for all of this, as none of it have been proven in a court of law. But as a lawyer who has looked over Korean election laws, the work of the Online Crusaders – both the pastor and his minions, and the NIS – is a clear violation of the law, if proven to be true.

I take issue with this because these alleged illegal acts were discovered and reported just days before the election, leaving no time to dive into the facts and fully inform the voting public. Whether or not that would have affected the outcome is another question, to which I would personally answer in the negative. Now it seems that the NIS, the police, and even the federal prosecutor’s office is on merry terms with the Saenuri party, forcing an even darker cloud over the prospects of a clean investigation into the cold, hard facts.

In all honesty, I could care less about who is elected as Korea’s next president. None of this affects me personally. And I must say that I am not, and never was, impressed with either candidate, and that I am not Park-bashing in any sense.

But I am pissed that the rule of law has, once again, fallen flat on its face in my home country. I am pissed that the majority of Koreans don’t seem to give a shit about the rule of law. I am pissed that we may never know what really happened during and after the election. I am pissed that regional feelings still dominate the political dialogue of my home country. I am pissed that, throughout the election cycle, the focus has been on finger-pointing and on the past, not educated debates on policy issues to bring about genuine change (don’t get me started on the presidential debates).

The election is over and Korea has a new president-elect. Whining and pissing about the outcome does no good, so I hope Korea finds a way to mend broken bonds and move forward, for God knows the country has a mountain of problems. It may take years, decades for true democratic values (like clean elections) to take root in Korea. It takes more than a system, more than oversight committees and government bureaucrats. It takes a democratic “mindset” that values fair dealing and ethical procedures. It takes a democratic “mindset” that values the well-being of others as much as one’s own. It takes a democratic “mindset” that values the courage to do what’s right.

Democracy is still young in Korea.

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