Lee’s landslide fueled by his economic credentials and disillusionment with liberal rule

Posted on : 2007-12-20 11:16 KST Modified on : 2007-12-20 11:16 KST
Solid support, large-scale projects and lack of other choices propelled Lee to victory

There may be many reasons behind the landslide victory achieved by Lee Myung-bak of the main opposition Grand National Party in yesterday’s presidential election. Experts attributed the win to his campaign slogan, which promoted him as the “President of the Economy,” a solid base of support in the Seoul metropolitan area and the lack of a concerted effort by the pro-government political parties, among other things. In short, Lee was elected president as many voters, disillusioned with the liberal parties, favor his background as a successful businessman, believing that he will be able to turn the struggling economy around.

For the past year, Lee has been dogged by a range of allegations, including false address registration, falsifying the employment records of his children and involvement with the now-defunct asset management firm BBK, through which he has been suspected of engaging in stock price manipulation and other financial irregularities. Despite issues of morality such as these, he continued to stay ahead of his rivals thanks to his appeal as a leader who could rebuild an economy still suffering the effects of the 1997-98 financial meltdown. Struggling with the widening gap between rich and poor, voters threw their full support behind Lee’s economy-focused campaign pledges.

His campaign strategy, which focused solely on the economy, also helped him gain ground. Most of his competitors attempted to counter this strategy by unveiling other measures and policies, but their efforts got them nowhere.

Yoon Gyung-joo, a political consultant, said, “Lee and his staff seemed to have known exactly why people wanted to elect the former Seoul mayor. Candidates usually focus on many issues, but Lee has stuck to a consistent campaign framework in which he emphasized the importance of the economy till the end.” He added, “Chung Dong-young, of the United New Democratic Party, failed to align his campaign slogan, ‘family,’ with his image, but Lee effectively appealed to voters with his image as a successful businessman.”

Kang Won-taek, a professor of political science at Soongsil University, said Lee’s campaign had been successful by unveiling plans for a large-scale project, the construction of a canal crossing the peninsula, through which he was able to attract public attention in the run-up to the election.

Political observers also attribute Lee’s landslide victory to the lack of viable competitors. Pro-government lawmakers failed to field a single candidate to compete with Lee, who commanded over 40 percent support. Adding to the woe, the UNDP failed to draw support following its primary, held months ago, which came under fire for alleged foul play by some of the candidates. In addition, the party failed in its efforts at negotiating with other minor parties to field a single candidate, disappointing supporters who wanted to keep the liberal party in power for the next five years. The GNP’s strategy of blaming the Roh Moo-hyun administration for the nation’s current economic and political problems also seemed to pay off.

Though their relationship is still somewhat contentious, Lee was successful in keeping Park Geun-hye in his circle after their neck-and-neck fight for the party’s nomination in the primary, which helped prevent GNP supporters from leaving to support independent candidate Lee Hoi-chang. In the process, Lee’s close aide, Lee Jae-oh, resigned and Lee declared Park his “political partner,” which helped him solidify his base of support, especially in the southeastern part of the country where Park’s strongest supporters reside.

Lee will be recorded as the first conservative party candidate to garner a majority vote in Seoul since the nation restored the direct popular vote in 1987. As Seoul mayor, Lee was in the spotlight for successfully overhauling the city’s public transportation system and the restoration of the Cheonggye Stream, which had been covered by concrete decades before. Lee made a strong impression on the general public with these two projects. He further solidified his support by consistently opposing the government’s plan to relocate the administrative capital.

Han Gwui-young of the Korea Society Opinion Institute said, “Traditionally, Seoulites have supported liberal and reform-mined politicians, but this time they have shown a strong inclination toward conservatism, leading the opinions people living in other areas, including the southern region of the country.”

Please direct questions or comments to [englishhani@hani.co.kr]

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