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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.

No surprise to see The New York Times, Reuters, and The Economist report this, as Ahn Cheol-soo’s formal announcement to run for the Korean presidency is indeed newsworthy. Here are five reasons why the U.S. should pay attention to this election cycle.

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1. Ahn epitomizes a drastic paradigm shift in the Korean populous. He cries for the need for “horizontal leadership” in the presidency, one that will listen and heed to the needs of the people, and rule for the people as a whole. He is the prime example of the “T-Rex Squared” leader I wrote about in a post depicting a new leadership paradigm for the twenty-first century (read it here). The Korean people want their voices heard, and many now consider Ahn to be their vehicle of choice. But what is the current “voice” of the Korean people in regards to the U.S.? There are numerous sensitive political issues, the KORUS FTA, military outposts and command chains, and the Investor-State Dispute resolution process being a few. How Ahn conveys Korea’s position on such issues will be critical to Korea-U.S. relations in the coming years.

2. Ahn is a true “outsider”. He has never held political office, and he has never been directly involved in policy making. He is an ex-doctor, an ex-venture CEO, and now an ex-professor and college dean. His latest best-selling book, “Ahn Cheol-soo’s Thoughts”, and his rhetoric thus far is eerily similar to President Obama’s “Change” slogan of 2008. Indeed, Ahn’s central message is an overhaul in many critical arenas – politics, business, taxes, and so on. What’s different about Ahn, compared to Obama, is that Ahn is truly an outsider – he is not (yet) part of a major political party. Although winning a presidential election without the help of a party will be a daunting task, Ahn believes he only needs grassroots support of the people to win and bring genuine change.

3. Ahn will call for major changes within Korean big businesses and the “chaebol”s. The term “economic democratization” has been thrown around repeatedly thus far, its main purpose being tighter restrictions on business and demanding transparency in business processes. Similar to Obama’s rhetoric, and the Democratic Party platform, Ahn seems to reject the “trickle down” economic theory; instead, he emphasizes accountability in business and the government’s role in providing fair opportunities for the jobless. If Ahn is elected, the impact on business should be watched closely, as Korea an its companies are a major trading partner of the U.S.

4. Ahn is already calling for a revolutionized election process, and furthermore, Ahn strives to be a symbol of a transformed political process as a whole – transparent, fair, and more democratized with the incorporation of voters’ views. I find it interesting that the U.S. has not yet used its leverage to press Korea to clean up its political scene, given its notorious scandals over the years. Straying away for old-school politics, where generations voted based on where the candidate was from or from what political faction he was in, Ahn is presenting a new political paradigm.

5. Ahn’s stance on North Korea should not be equated to that of the current opposition party. Although he has not yet made it crystal clear, Ahn’s approach to the North does not seem to be as lenient. While his stance would probably be more warm-hearted than that of the current Lee administration, and based on two-way dialogue between the nations, one would expect Ahn to hold the North accountable on many more issues before blindly pouring aid into the country. If elected, Ahn’s interaction with the U.S. State Department regarding the North would be interesting to observe.

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Korea is standing before major crossroads. The chosen path will indeed affect how Korea and U.S. will dine together for years to come.

“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.” – Maya Angelou –

Agreed. Humankind learns from history, the goal of which is to not repeat our errors and to form a better future than our past. And agreed. Not repeating history takes enormous courage and sacrifice, both political and personal. One may argue that it is a choice, made consciously to not repeat and relive what one deems unproductive and atrocious, a choice that one may unconsciously believe to be made independently with not divine intervention of time and its surroundings.

But history repeats itself. Hence, Winston Churchill famously said, “Study history, study history. In history lies all the secrets of statecraft.” The current repetition is best described as a series of uprisings. Although the degree, form and purpose differ vastly across continents, an overlap exists: the “commoners” demand to be heard.

Post first World War Egypt was changing rapidly, particularly its social and economic settings. New industries were developing, a different capital flow was coming in, and most importantly, the commoners, who were mostly slaves in the past, were awakening to realize their enslaved hardships. Literacy rates were at an all-time high, and means of communication, although still sluggish, were rapidly improving, allowing information and ideas to flow freely throughout the country. This synergy created a seething bond, a nation, resulting in an uproar for individual freedom and democracy.

A century later, modern Egypt birthed another uproar. The story sounds eerily similar; freedom suppressed for decades by a dictator, improved communication webs enabling the free-flow of ideas, and most importantly, commoners realizing their depressed current states and doing something about it. This wildfire has spread with bushfire speed, and has engulfed Syria for the past fourteen months. Syria indeed is on the extreme end; thousands of civilians have lost their lives. However, the pattern of revolt is nothing new.

No literal bloodshed yet, but a similar pattern is detected in South Korea. A formidable potential candidate has emerged in the race for the Blue House. Dr. Ahn Chul Soo, currently a professor at Seoul National University and formerly the founder of Ahn Lab, the first company to create and distribute computer vaccines in Korea, is riding a tidal wave strong enough to shake the foundations of the political establishment. What is striking is that Dr. Ahn has no political experience to speak of, and that he has not even formally declared his candidacy. What he has done for the past decade is simple: connect. Whether or not his motives are genuine, Dr. Ahn has become the symbol for what the Korean commoners want in their president. Someone who embodies two-way communication, someone who is genuinely concerned for the well-being of the common, and not thrashed around by the current establishment dominated by wealthy conglomerates.

Freedom does not endure. Fantasize all you want, but history does not lie. A once-successful uproar brings about a period of liberties, and the commoners thrive and rejoice. That period is almost always followed by a dictator, albeit in different forms and figures. The commoners are subdued once more, until another spark ignites the courage and necessity to realize and fulfill one’s destined freedom.

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