Predictions from the pastWho will be smiling when the December presidential election is over? With the once-in-five-year contest approaching, bets and forecasts are thick on the ground. Since general rules usually do not apply in the political world, it is impossible to accurately predict the results. But we could refer to trends in past elections for clues and guidelines. Let’s look at some common phenomena that recurred on the campaign trails during the last five presidential elections.
First of all, wide discrepancies in the votes in the rival regions have played a crucial role in defining election outcomes in democratic Korea. Since constitutional reform in 1987, party and candidate preference in legislative and presidential elections varied greatly depending on the region.
The election in which President Roh Moo-hyun and his Uri Party defeated their opponents recorded the slimmest margin in the nationwide vote gap. The 2010 mayoral and gubernatorial elections, the 2012 parliamentary election, and the recent primary race in which Moon Jae-in was elected as Democratic United Party candidate for president also showed narrow nationwide vote margins.
Park Geun-hye, presidential candidate from the ruling Saenuri Party, should be vigilant: Her chance of winning the gold ring will become slimmer if the opposition candidates join forces and don’t split the liberal vote.
That brings up the issue of election alliances. Dancing with the enemy began with President Roh Tae-woo after two long-time dissidents against dictatorship, Kim Dae-jung and Kim Young-sam, split the liberal vote because of their separate ambitions to be president in the 1987 race. President Kim Young-sam later joined up with three conservative parties to gain power while President Kim Dae-jung paired with his former enemy Kim Jong-pil.
Progressive President Roh Moo-hyun also joined forces with independent rival Chung Mong-joon during the 2002 campaign to beat heavyweight conservative opponent Lee Hoi-chang. Strategic partnerships can be effective because the legislature is a multi-party body. Political parties number an average of 3.7 in our legislature’s history, and coalitions among minority parties can alter the tide in elections. This year’s presidential race, so far, is a three-way one. It’s outcome could be determined by collaboration.
Recent internal rivalry in the progressive and liberal camps led to candidates being favored from Busan and South Gyeongsang - Park Won-soon versus Park Young-sun in the Seoul mayoral primary race, and Moon Jae-in and Kim Doo-kwan in the DUP primary race for the presidential candidacy. Ahn Cheol-soo, the third independent dubbed the dark horse candidate in the current presidential race, shares a common voting base with his opposition contestant Moon Jae-in from Busan.
The partisan divide between the conservatives and liberals - the East-West regional rivalry - resulted from the rivalry of Kim Young-sam of Busan and Gyeongsang and Kim Dae-jung of Jeolla and Kim Young-sam’s uniting of three parties with political bases in Busan and Gyeongsang. The surge of aspiring liberal political leaders from Busan and Gyeongsang can weaken the long-seated conservative base in the southern coast region, and they can up their chances through an integration of votes of their constituency with those from the traditional liberal home base in Jeolla.
An alliance between Moon and Ahn would have significance beyond reviving the unity of democratic and liberal forces before the two dissident Kims fell out. It would be a new type of pact that brings together the old democratic forces with the new, progressive social welfare proponents. They would deconstruct the old regional schism in politics toward future-oriented goals and also bring about the first national-scale union of political parties and civilian forces. But the question is whether Moon and Ahn can bear such a historical weight by joining hands.
A third election variable is the relationship between the president and ruling party candidate. Amicable ties between the incumbent and future power - President Chun Doo Hwan and candidate Roh Tae-woo, President Roh and candidate Kim Young-sam, and President Kim Dae-jung and candidate Roh Moo-hyun - made it easy for the ruling force to maintain governing power.
But the result was the opposite when the relationship between the president and his successor was poor as was the case with Kim Young-sam and Lee Hoi-chang as well as liberals Roh Moo-hyun and Chung Dong-young. Because their voting bases overlapped, their relationship can translate into a win or a loss. Unfortunately, the relationship between President Lee Myung-bak and ruling party candidate Park Geun-hye is beyond fixing.
Fourth, candidates without experience in elected office have all failed. The presidential winners all had served in legislative and mayoral or gubernatorial posts. Voters cannot entrust the country’s future to inexperienced and untested candidates.
Next, independent and third party candidates have all lost presidential races. Both theories bode badly for political newcomer and independent candidate Ahn.
Also, there have been no successive wins from the same region. President Roh Tae-woo came from Daegu, Kim Young-sam from Busan, Kim Dae-jung from Jeolla, Roh Moo-hyun from Busan, and Lee Myung-bak from Gyeongsang. That rule would work against Park Geun-hye coming from the same Daegu-Gyeongsang region of the incumbent.
Additionally, no single factional power succeeded in winning governing power more than once. Moon ?- from the same political roots as Roh Moo-hyun - would be the first case if he wins. In past presidential races, the first declared candidate ended up in the Blue House. Park Geun-hye was first to be declared a candidate in this year’s race.
But all the variables are mere historical records, and rules are meant to be broken.
At the end of the day, voters will cast their ballots for candidates who can lead the country with unity, peace, security, welfare, balance and justice.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
* The writer is a politics professor of Yonsei University.
by Park Myung-lim