Main candidates dig at each other on first day of campaigning

Posted on : 2012-11-28 13:21 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Moon and Park are facing off in fierce battle between liberalism and conservatism
 staff photographer)
staff photographer)

By Seong Han-yong, political correspondent

Official election campaigning began on Nov. 27, and already the presidential race is turning into a slugfest. The Saenuri Party’s Park Geun-hye and the Democratic United Party’s Moon Jae-in wasted no time getting their licks in with their first canvassing.

Park slammed Moon as “one of the top figures in a failed administration that forfeited its own right to rule.” Moon was chief of staff under President Roh Moo-hyun.

“As soon as he came to power, he spent night and day on ideological battles - working to abolish the National Security Act or amend the Private Education Act,” she continued. “Even when the lives of the public were being destroyed, he worked nonstop to agitate and divided the public.”

Moon showed no quarter to Park.

“Park Geun-hye represents the vestiges of the May 16 military coup d’etat [the 1961 event that put her father Park Chung-hee in power] and the Yushin dictatorship,” he said. “Can she speak about democracy with a historical perspective that glorifies dictatorship? Having never earned a cent through her own efforts, has she ever worried about finding employment? Has she ever worried about housing prices, bank loans, or inflation?”

An election in a country with a presidential system is a battle for political control, and the battle is inevitably fierce. But it is unusual to see the leading candidates going after their opponent’s weaknesses on the very first day of campaigning. The early attacks show that this may well turn into one of the most heated election battles yet.

There were three main reasons for the intensity of the attacks.

First, each wants to get a leg up. Both Park and Moon hope to win by digging in early and keeping their opponent clearly in their sights. Both describe themselves as representing the future and their opponent as representing the past.

By painting Moon as ideological, Park is trying to make herself look like the candidate who works for the public’s welfare. Meanwhile, Moon is working to present himself as representative of new politics and the working class, someone who will “walk and talk with the public,” and Park as representing old politics and the “aristocracy,” someone who would “rule the public” as president. The first-day onslaught was part of an effort to impose their respective frames on the public.

A second reason has to do with historical context. Park is the daughter of Park Chung-hee, who is widely seen as a symbol of both modernization and dictatorship. Moon was chief of staff under Roh Moo-hyun, who was seen as representing the democracy movement and progressive values. The battle taking shape between two candidates who typify different historical currents in modern South Korean history is inevitably a fight between the “modernizers” and the “democratizers,” as well as an ideological showdown between conservatives and progressives.

The election landscape is also different from previous contests. The fighting is inevitably rough when both sides are putting forward a united front and throwing their unanimous support behind their candidate.

Finally, the characteristics of the candidate themselves also factor in. As politicians, both of them put an emphasis on sincerity and principle. Both are straightforward in speech and action. Both eschew euphemism and evasiveness.

Park has made her name as an ambitious politician; she stared down President Lee Myung-bak and his attempts to scrap plans for an administrative city in Sejong during the 2008 general election nominations. Moon’s bluntness and aggressiveness were evident in his talks with Ahn Cheol-soo on narrowing the opposition field.

Both figures’ qualities came to the fore in their first-day body blows.


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