Wisdom needed todayThis presidential election has been one for the record books. We have never witnessed such a sharp polarization between the conservative and liberal camps as in the sixth direct-voting election since the democratization movement in 1987. In the past, the right-wing group was split by Kim Jong-pil, Chung Ju-yung, Rhee In-je and Chung Mong-joon, while the left-wing group was a bit divided by Kwon Young-ghil and Moon Kook-hyun, candidates from the Democratic Labor Party and Creative Korea Party, respectively. With the splinter Unified Progressive Party contender Lee Jung-hee dropping out of the race, the election turned into a real neck-and-neck contest between Park Geun-hye of the ruling Saenuri Party and Moon Jae-in of the opposition Democratic United Party - with each grabbing 40-something percent of the vote, according to polls.
However, extreme polarization of our ideological spectrum can cast a shadow and make it harder to bridge the divide after the election. Despite remarkable similarities in the two candidates’ platforms on welfare, medical services, jobs and political reform, there still remains a troubling gap on such issues as education and chaebol reform.
This campaign has also left us with a lot to learn about how to run an election. Regardless of a remarkable lack of irregular practices from the past - such as stone-hurling in 1987, a secret meeting aimed at fueling deep-rooted regional sentiments in 1992 and the rampaging plutocracy of the 2002 election - we saw a depressing repeat of mudslinging and all-or-nothing accusations. A minority party candidate dropped out of the race after receiving a 2.7 billion won ($2.5 million) government subsidy. All the fuss over fielding a single candidate for the liberal camp critically delayed debates between the candidates.
Today’s election is to choose a leader who can deftly address the daunting challenges of the next five years. Despite an earlier forecast of 3.8 percent growth, our economy is on track to end the year with 2.4 percent growth and could fall below 2 percent in 2013. Poor growth will threaten the overall structure of our society. With North Korea’s youthful leader Kim Jong-un shattering the international community’s hopes for peace with a long-range missile launch, our next president must be ready for more belligerence ahead as well as a possible collapse of the Pyongyang regime.
Who can best lead the nation for the next five years? The decision will be made by more than 40 million voters today. We hope they cast their ballots wisely.