South Korea's Electorate, Unlike Japan, May Move Leftwards
South Korea completes this tumultuous week in Asia politics when it goes to the polls on Wednesday to elect a new president.
As opposed to Japan that has movied to the right, South Korea - even in the event that Park Guen-hye manages to hold on to the presidency for the ruling Saenuri( New Frontier) Party against the challenge of Moon Jae-in the Democratic Unity Party (DUP) candidate - is expected to move in the other direction.
Despite North Korea's launch of a new long-range missile, both candidates are sounding conciliatory to North Korea.
Park has stated her willingness to meet Kim Jong Un, who has just completed one year as the ruler of North Korea.
Moon is likely to resume some variant of his party's Sunshine Diplomacy, under which South Korea attempts to modify the behavior of the North via economic assistance. The fact that North Korea became a nuclear power under this policy has not modified DUP policy on this issue.
The main point of the elections, however, is internal - namely, the call by the DUP for the economic democratization of Korea. These are code words for diluting the power of the country's chaebols-conglomerates such as Samsung and Hyundai, and precisely at a moment that the country's flagship enterprises are trouncing their Japanese competition in electronics and automobiles.
The Left wants more resources devoted to welfare and increased regulatory measures on the conglomerates.
The debate has personal historical roots. Park is the daughter of strongman Park Chung-hee, the authoritarian leader who ruled South Korea from 1961 until his assassination in 1979.
Park, who had a murky past as part of the collaborationist Korean Army formed by Japan during the Japanese occupation of Korea, was responsible for transforming the country from an impoverished rural economy whose main exports were seafood and wigs into an industrial power.
Park was willing to grant Japan forgiveness in return for Japanese aid and technology. Domestically, he clamped down on labor demands for improved wages in order to keep his country as competitive as possible. Political dissidents were imprisoned and one of them was none other than Moon Jae-in.
Park Guen-hye has disassociated herself from the authoritarian rule of her father, although following the death of her mother, she served under her father as the country's first lady. Her support comes from older South Koreans, 50 and over, while her opponent is supported by those in their 20s and 30s. This leaves those in their 40s as the deciding force in these closely-fought elections.