Opinion / Web Comments

ROK election holds a lot of keys

By Wang Sheng (chinadaily.com.cn) Updated: 2012-12-04 21:09

The upcoming presidential election in the Republic of Korea, the last of the important elections across the world this year, will not only decide the direction of domestic politics in the next five years, but also have a major impact on inter-Korean relations, China-ROK relations, the US-ROK alliance and Northeast Asian dynamics.

The two-day registration for candidates for the December election ended on Nov 26, kicking off a 22-day campaign. With the withdrawal of independent candidate Ahn Cheol-soo, the tripartite race has turned into a straight contest between Park Geun-hye of the ruling Saenuri Party (New Frontier Party) and Moon Jae-in of the opposition Democratic United Party.

Apart from domestic issues, such as reviving the ROK economy, inter-Korean relations will play an important role in the election campaign. The way the ROK presidential candidates approach the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is what concerns Pyongyang most.

The DPRK lashed out at Park Geun-hye for saying that she would carry forward a "unification proposal for national community based on the order of liberal democracy" and strengthen the US-ROK alliance, and for being critical of Pyongyang’s "human rights abuses" and "defectors".

As a successor of the “Sunshine Policy”, Moon Jae-in's attitude toward the DPRK is more pragmatic and moderate, and Pyongyang has not commented directly on Moon's policy commitments.

After the DPRK's official Korean Central News Agency announced on Dec 1 that Pyongyang planned to launch a satellite between Dec 10 and 22, the US, the ROK and Japan reacted strongly. The US State Department said a satellite launch by the DPRK would be a "highly provocative act" and a threat to security in Northeast Asia.

While Japan's Ministry of Defense said it would intercept the rocket should it pose a threat to Japan, the ROK government urged the DPRK to drop the plan. Seoul said that if Pyongyang did not drop the plan, it would cause concern among the ROK, the US, Japan and other countries.

Many think that it has become a practice of the DPRK "to do something" on the eve of presidential elections in the ROK. But this time the issue is especially sensitive, because the satellite launch could coincide with the election. ROK President Lee Myung-bak, however, told news agencies on Dec 2 that though the DPRK "has continuously tried to intervene in our elections", a launch "wouldn't have any huge impact" on the December election.

Opinion polls in the ROK show Park enjoying slightly more support than Moon. It seems the DPRK has planned to launch a satellite to let ROK voters know that Pyongyang wants the next president to change Seoul's current approach and adopt a more conciliatory policy toward its northern neighbor. The satellite launch plan could put psychological pressure on the ROK voters not to choose a hard-line president.

In fact, the DPRK would prefer to see Moon as the next ROK president, which could have a great impact on the US policy toward the DPRK.

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