The clearest choice in yearsWith the ruling Saenuri Party candidate Park Geun-hye and opposition Democratic United Party contender Moon Jae-in officially registering their presidential bids, both camps’ campaigns can begin for the December presidential election. That opens a genuine two-way battle for the first time in a decade since the contest between Roh Moo-hyun and Lee Hoi-chang in the 2002 election. With the absence this time of a strong third bidder - like Chung Ju-yung, Rhee In-je or Lee Hoi-chang - in presidential elections, the two-way race symbolizes an all-out war between two rival forces and philosophies in our society.
This election polarizes the political scene more than ever before. In the conservative camp, Lee Hoi-chang, former head of the Grand National Party, has joined Park’s camp, and the splinter conservative Liberty Forward Party, led by Rhee In-je, has also merged with the Saenuri Party. Meanwhile, independent dark horse Ahn Cheol-soo endorsed Moon Jae-in after dropping out of the race to ensure a single candidate for the liberal camp, and Sim Sang-jeong, head of the Progressive Justice Party, will likely announce her support for Moon. All the developments herald the most competitive race between conservative and liberal forces since the 1980s.
A two-way race risks neutralizing voices in between. Both camps, however, can minimize the risk if they campaign like in the U.S. election with its two-party system. Moreover, Park has turned left in such areas as economic justice and welfare. Moon cannot entirely follow in the footsteps of Roh on national security and North Korea issues. That’s why it should be a fight to reflect the needs of the middle as well.
The race should be about the future. Park’s waffling about her father’s political oppression and her denial of involvement in the Jeongsu Scholarship Foundation scandal still casts a shadow over her bid, not to mention mounting criticism against the chaebol-focused industry structure her father built. Park also faces a new challenge to cajole the recalcitrant regime in Pyongyang to take a reform path. She must present a vision of a new president, not a daughter of a former dictator.
Moon was a core member of the Roh Moo-hyun administration. Moon’s image as “Roh’s avatar” is a huge burden. He contends his election will not be a Roh comeback. If so, Moon must come up with clear ways not to repeat his boss’s misgovernment and define his own vision. Backpedaling on such issues as the Korea-U.S. free trade deal is no way to prove a new voice.