[Viewpoint] Lee’s lucky race

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[Viewpoint] Lee’s lucky race

“Our roles have been reduced,” complain aides to politicians running for president this year. They say there are not many tasks for them to perform. Both liberal parties and opposition aides feel the same. They still come up with ingenious ideas to attack other candidates, but the ratings hardly change as a result of political offensives.
It almost seems that the election result has been predetermined by some invisible hand. At first, politicians felt frustrated by this sense of destiny foretold, but now the frontrunner and the also-rans seem to have accepted the situation. While there could be a last minute bolt of lighting to change the outcome, with five days until the election few aides expect anything to really change.
The Grand National Party’s presidential candidate boasts a higher rating than all the liberal parties combined. In fact, this is a trend that started quite some time ago.
The unchallenged lead of the GNP candidate has held steady since former Prime Minister Goh Kun declared he was not running for president in January. Since then, he voters seem to have set their minds on Lee Myung-bak. The BBK scandal, the biggest factor that might influence the presidential election, seemed to hold back Lee’s popularity for a while before the prosecutors announced their conclusions. When the report was released on December 5 clearing Lee, his approval rating was already rising and it has continued to do so. The trend is even more obvious among people who say they are determined to vote.
Support ratings contain people’s hopes and aspirations. Especially during a presidential election, polls reflect a general review of the current administration. This year’s election will be like a comprehensive report card on the last five years of President Roh Moo-hyun’s administration. If an incumbent administration has problems, the voters want to correct the flaws. Since the ratings reflect an evaluation of the past, some say that such an election is too oriented toward the past. However, people just want to improve on the mistakes of the past in order to make a better future.
Those who have served in various positions in the Roh administration tend to be good debaters. Even when they are given a poor evaluation, they strike back. They demand to see a list of the things that they have done wrong. However, writing up such a list is a job they should do themselves. The people are under no obligation to point out the details. Such arguments have made the evaluation of the current government even worse. The United New Democratic Party’s presidential candidate Chung Dong-young tried to sever his ties with the current administration, but he failed to earn much backing and the attempt only cost him his relationship with President Roh.
The issue of the moment is the economy, which is addressed in terms of practice and accomplishment. There is little room for argument. Instead of debate and rhetoric, people demand tangible and visible economic improvement. This demand has translated into high approval ratings for Lee. Naturally, campaign aides can take it easy.
The major elements that determine the outcome of the presidential election before the official campaign begins are public opinion, party composition and character. What I have illustrated so far is public opinion.
The liberal camp has failed to create an appropriate structure for itself. They tore down and rebuilt the old ruling party, hoping to reinvent it, but after a meaningless reshuffle, it was not much different from the Uri Party. At least, that’s how most people seem to feel. Until now, the ruling circle, the liberals, are still in a complete haze about how to select a single candidate.
Originally, the ruling camp intended to hold a primary with the participation of people around the country. However, the primary election was heavily influenced by the regional backgrounds of the candidates, and the liberals failed to select a candidate with the right character. The Honam region has always been a stronghold of the ruling party, but even there the popularity of the liberal candidate is not as dominant as it would have been in past elections.
Once the election campaign begins, the deciding factors are issues and policies. The ruling camp put all their hopes on a single negative issue, the BBK scandal.
There have been many other issues surrounding Lee Myung-bak ― allegations over land in Dogok-dong, the illegal change of his residence address, and the camouflaged employment of his children. His policy promises, like the grandiose cross-country canal, are controversial. Yet, the liberals focused on a single issue. Strangely enough, now no one pays attention to Lee’s policies. The ratings for the television debates between the candidates are not as high as five years ago. Internet appeals and candlelight vigils are not enough to move voters.
Lee is a very lucky man. The ruling camp is helpless and hapless and the clock is ticking. No wonder the aides are idle.

*The writer is the head of The Opinion, a survey company. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

By Ahn Boo-keun

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