With the historic impeachment of South Korean President Park Geun-hye, there will be another presidential election in South Korea. This will be the 19th presidential election in Korea and will be held on or before May 9th, 2017. Currently, Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn will be the acting president until the election date. Park Geun-hye’s impeachment was a clear sign that the people of Korea were tired over the allegations of corruption and cronyism coming from Korea’s political leaders. The next president of South Korea will have a lot to deal with once elected. There is the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) situation that is causing problems with China. Relations between South and North Korea remains tense after North Korea fired four ballistic missiles last week in reaction to joint military exercises between U.S. and South Korea. Since Park has always taken a strong stance against North Korea, it is reasonable that the new president will look to engage in talks with the North to find some peace. With Park’s Liberty Korea Party looking less and less popular with the public, Korea will most likely turn left to find their next president. Here are the top five candidates for the South Korean presidency.
5) Hwang Kyo-ahn
The South Korean Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn who has become the acting president comes in 5th on this list. He has spent 30 years of his life as a state prosecutor before joining Park’s cabinet in 2013. He has a lot of experience concerning national security laws and is already entrenched in the political ecosystem. The key question will be how loyal Hwang Kyo-ahn will be to President Park. Will he distance himself from her political views? Right after the scandal, Hwang seemed to try to deflect the blame away from Park and onto himself. He should get the mass majority of President Park’s votes and the rest will depend on how far he comes out of Park’s shadow. The public so far is not on Hwang’s side as he has gotten negative press over his decision to deploy an advanced US missile defense system to counter North Korean threats. Many citizens in Korea feel Hwang had been Park’s co-conspirer in the scandals and that is a difficult label to extinguish. This is why many wonder if Hwang will run at all in the up-coming elections. However, there are still many who support Park and especially Park’s political party. He will get votes but will it be enough? UPDATE: Withdrew
4) Ahn Cheol-soo
Ahn Cheol-soo considers himself the “Bernie Sanders” of South Korea and represents the People’s Party. He was born in Busan and grew up trained in the field of medicine. He went on to create the V3 anti-virus software and became an entrepreneur rather than a doctor. He is the founder of AhnLab which is one of Korea’s most successful anti-virus software companies. He has written many books and has distributed free computer anti-virus programs to millions of South Koreans.
He launched a much needed third party called the People’s Party after backing losing candidate Moon Jae-in in 2012. He wants to be the party of the people, a president that listens to ordinary people and looks to make decisions based on a Korean citizen’s perspective. He likens himself to U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt to was for welfare, higher taxes for the rich, and caution when it comes to free trade. He is 5th on this list mainly because of Moon Jae-in who he himself backed in 2012. Another factor in Ahn Cheol-soo not being elected is his alleged involvement in a kickback scandal. He was not implicated but his popularity has fallen a great deal compared to the year before.
3) Lee Jae-myung
While Ahn Cheol-soo considers himself the “Bernie Sanders” of South Korea, the real “Bernie Sanders” might be Lee Jae-myung. He is very anti-establishment which could work in his favor, the same way it worked in the U.K. (Brexit) and the U.S. (Trump). Lee is the major of Seongnam and of the Democratic Party and Rep. He was able to reduce the debt in Seongnam to zero and has been known for rejecting political favors. He is in favor of the reduction of the wage gap between the rich and the poor and providing universal basic income. He is also anti-chaebols which will work strongly in his favor as citizens in Korea are fed up with family-run conglomerates and their connections to bribery and corruption allegations. Lee even went as far as to say he would like to see President Park Geun-hye go to jail over the influence-peddling scandal.
Lee Jae-myung has expressed his respect for Donald Trump which could be helpful in U.S./Korean relations moving forward. The populist movements have worked globally so far, so Lee wants to ride that wave into the Blue House. Lee comes from a middle-class family and entered politics after working as a human rights lawyer. Lee will also look to seek a summit with North Korea to open negotiations. Add this to his basic income policy and you have a real contender in the South Korean presidential race.
2) Ahn Hee-jung
Ahn Hee-jung is the governor of Chungcheongnam and is from the Minjoo Party of Korea. He is considered the “dark horse” in the presidential race, however, he is gaining steam very quickly as very poll sees his rising. He is young, confident, and feels is the rightful heir of the Democratic Party. He has been going hard after Moon Jae-in who is considered the frontrunner. He is the opposite of Lee Jae-myung and is against basic income policies. He wants to work with both parties and is considered a moderate. This could help him get the conservative votes but also could cost him the liberal votes. With Ban Ki-moon withdrawing from the election, most of his votes are looking to go to Ahn Hee-jung, this makes him a true contender. His obstacle will be going against the trend of opposition and seeking more of an integrative approach.
Ahn Hee-jung made a name for himself in 2004 when he was sentenced to 30 months in jail for illegal election fundraising for then president Roh Moon-hyun. Now he is a running for the president of South Korea. He is a great speaker and debater, probably the best of the candidates. He studied philosophy at Korea University and became a student revolutionary. Later he met president Roh Moo-hyun who became his mentor. Now Ahn Hee-jung is all about getting his name out there to the public. With Moon Jae-in being so popular, Ahn has a lot to do. He will focus on taking a strong stance on discrimination against gays, and a “let it be” stance in regards to economic reforms. In regards to North Korea, Ahn would like a form of dialogue to lower tensions. While Ahn is on the rise, many wonder if he has the time to truly make an impact. The election is only a few months away.
1) Moon Jae-in
Moon Jae-in is the clear front runner in the election and would be a shock if he didn’t win the presidency. He had a very close battle with Park Geun-hye in 2012 and many voters today feel they made a mistake in electing Park. Moon Jae-in has a clear “I told you so” angle that will be looked at as very powerful. Moon Jae-in is a former special forces soldier and a human rights lawyer. He made a name for himself in politics as being a democratic activist and leader. As with others, Moon wants to stop the power of chaebols and their ties to the government. He was a close friend to future president Roh and worked with him during his time as a lawyer.
Moon’s critics call on Moon’s soft stance towards North Korea and being anti-American. However, Moon has said time and time again that he wants to lessen tensions with North Korea through dialogue. Moon has been critical of America’s installment of THAAD in South Korea. Moon has promised to review the deployment of THAAD once elected. He is also hated by conservatives which is why he is the frontrunner for change. However, if there is a chance he loses, it will come down to where those conservatives votes go to.