Anti-DJ Sentiments at Heart of ElectionRecent polls show that the upcoming election has come down to a two-party battle between the Millennium Democratic Party (MDP) and the Grand National Party (GNP), with the United Liberal Democrats expected to win a minor victory by taking Chungchong province.
Upon closer inspection, the election has boiled down to a tug-of-war between those who support President Kim Dae-jung (DJ) and those who oppose him.
Rhee In-je, chief campaigner for the MDP, has had problems in a GNP-heavy Kyongsang province, making only a few cursory trips to the region. The bad blood dates back to his failed campaign for the presidency in the 1998 election, splitting the vote three ways and handing the current administration their victory. Now that Rhee has joined the MDP, Kyongsang voters are screaming, 'Traitor.'
The GNP is aware that some voters in Korea are looking to them as an alternative to DJ's policies and is attempting to capitalize on the public's dissatisfaction with the ruling party.
The newly-formed Democratic People's Party is also garnering votes by taking an anti-DJ stance, promising a break from the harsh economic reforms if they are elected.
True, DJ's policies have brought about a lot of change in many sectors, including labor, education, medicine, welfare, and human rights. His 'Sunshine Policy' with North Korea and financial restructuring has brought international praise.
Despite these accolades, why is anti-DJ sentiment growing in this country?
The MDP say it is negative campaigning by rival parties, who are content to win votes by inciting the regionalism that has haunted Korean elections for decades.
Others say that DJ has fallen out of favor with the public over his government's spartan reforms despite the current economic recovery. At the time of the foreign exchange crisis, two years ago, the country was willing to bend over backwards, accepting the high unemployment rate and a reduction in working-class salaries.
Now after a remarkable turnaround, Koreans are less willing to live with the harsh realities of continued government intervention in big business and 'workout' packages for ailing companies.
Developments over the last few months, including alleged cover-ups in government investigations and the resignation of some bank presidents, have left many skeptical.
Ultimately, voters must choose if they want another term of DJ's single-minded policy-making and unilateral personnel appointments. Do voters want more clampdowns on media and on civic groups that have opposed DJ?
The debate over DJ's performance is an opportunity to review this country's reform program and where it is leading us.
More in Columns
Room for alignment
A cautionary tale
A government in disarray
China’s thin skin