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Can Moon win the elections in conservative, centrist world?Moon capitalizes on repeated failures of the government

Rep. Moon Jae-in, a prominent progressive-oriented lawmaker, was elected new chairman of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) at the party national convention at the Olympic Gymnasium in Seoul on Feb. 8, 2015. It was a showdown between the leaders of the two rival factions in the party, one consisting of the followers of the progressive former President Roh Moo-hyun and the other those of the liberal former President Kim Dae-jung.

▲The late former President Roh Moo-hyun (left), a progressive leader of Korea, and Chairman Moon Jae-in of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy who had formerly been the chief of staff of President Roh.

Politically and ideologically, the people in South Korea are mostly conservative, especially the established generation plus the senior citizens in their 60s to 90s. Many political observers believe that ideologically the Korean people are 40% conservative, 45% middle-of-the-roaders, 12% liberals and 3% progressives.
In this situation, Moon who, strictly classified, belongs to the progressive-liberal camp, stands a very slim chance of winning either in the National Assembly elections or the Presidential race. Against this political backdrop, Rep. Moon, upon his election as the new chairman of the NPAD, has obviously made a smart decision and visited the National Cemetery paying homage to the conservative late Presidents Syngman Rhee and Park Chung-hee as well as the other Presidents such as Kim Dae-jung. This may be viewed as a clear sign of his effort to woo the middle-of-the-roaders as well as the liberals and progressives for the upcoming National Assembly general elections next year and for the Presidential elections in the following year.

However, Moon is seen to believe that he has a chance. He seems to bank on the significantly falling popularity rating of President Park Geun-hye whose approval rating among the people in public opinion polls dropped as low down as to 29% and her disapproval rating skyrocketing to 65% and higher. To make the situation worse for President Park, former Director Won Se-hoon of the National Intelligence Service (NIS), which is a Korean equivalent to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the United States, was found guilty by the Seoul District High Court of his involvement in the political cyber comments during the Presidential elections in 2012 in favor of the then Saenuri Party Presidential Candidate Park Geun-hye and against the opposition candidate Moon Jae-in. On this situation, independent Korean-language daily (Kyunghyang Shinmun) even stated on Feb. 11, 2015 that it posed a serious question as to the legitimacy of the election of President Park in the 2012 Presidential elections.

Thanks to the repeated poor performances of the government, including the Sewol Ferry case and the questionable personnel appointments by the President, Moon hopes to win as many seats as possible at the National Assembly next year and as part of this scheme he is wooing the centrists and reform-minded conservatives who are somewhat tired of the bungling made by the government.

▲Moon campaigning during the 2012 Presidential election as opposition candidate.

Former Liberal President Kim Dae-jung enjoyed a great measure of support from the people for his championing for the democratic rights of the people against the repressive governments of Presidents Park Chung-hee and Chun Doo-hwan. However, his good image was eclipsed by President Kim Jong-il of North Korea who took advantage of the so-called ‘Sunshine Policy’ of Kim Dae-jung, got money, trillions of won, during the DJ government that believed that if South Korea continued to send warm wind (economic assistance) to North Korea, Kim Jong-il would take off his coat (nuclear armament) due to the warm wind from the South. Kim Jong-il, however, used the money from the South in further developing his nuclear weapons and missiles to be used against South Korea.
The next President, the progressive-minded Roh Moo-hyun, followed the pro-North Korean policies of Kim Dae-jung to the letter, and gave North Korea assistance valued at several more trillion won.
All told, political experts estimated the economic benefits given to North Korea by the two non-conservative governments of Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun to total some eight trillion won (US$8 billion won). All this money, Kim Jong-il and his son Chairman Kim Jong-Un are known to have been using in the development and sophistication of their nuclear weapons and missiles.

This situation has made it very difficult for the liberal and progressive politicians in South Korea, the former represented by Moon and the latter by Rep. Park Ji-won who had just lost the election race for the chairmanship of the NPAD at its national convention on Feb. 8, 2015.
Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo of the NPAD was politically classified a centrist and commanded a large measure of support from the people because the Korean people neither supported out-and-out conservatives nor radical liberals or progressives. At the Seoul mayoral election campaign period, Ahn got a 55% support in most of the opinion polls while Park Won-soon (now Seoul mayor) won only 5%. At many public opinion surveys during the Presidential election campaign period in 2012, too, Ahn defeated the then Saenuri Presidential Candidate Park Geun-hye while Park prevailed upon Moon Jae-in. However, the people found Ahn to be overly ‘weak-hearted’ as he made concessions so readily, including the Seoul mayor candidacy to Park Won-soon and the Presidential candidacy to Moon.
If the present government of President Park Geun-hye continues to lose the support of the people as she has been doing, Moon will have that much more confidence in his chance of winning the National Assembly and Presidential elections in 2016 and 2017, respectively.

Here is resume of Moon Jae-in:

Moon was born in Geoje City of Gyeongsangnam-do Province on Jan. 24, 1953, graduated from Kyunghee University in Seoul in 1980 with a major in law and joined politics working with the late former President Roh Moo-hyun when Roh was a human rights lawyer.

Feb. 2015 to date: Chairman of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy
June 2014 to date: Member of National Assembly and member of the National Defense Committee
March 2014 to date: Member of National Assembly (elected from Busan Sasang District)
December 2012: Acting chairman of the Democratic Union Party
August 2007: Chairman of the Promotion Committee for the second inter-Korean summit talks.
March 2007 to February 2008: Chief secretary to President Roh Moo-hyun
January 2005 to May 2006: Senior Presidential secretary for civil affairs
1988: Member of the Preparatory Committee of the Hankyoreh Shinmun
1983: Representative layer of the Busan Metropolitan City
1980: Passed the State Examination for Law Enforcement Officer

As seen above, Moon stood on the side of the people who mostly did not enjoy the blessings of the government or those in power. Moon was arrested and expelled from the university when he organized a student protest against the Yushin (Revitalizing Reforms) Constitution of the late former President Park Chung-hee. Later, he was forcibly conscripted to the military and recruited by the Special Forces, where he participated in a military mission during the Axe murder incident in Panmunjom on Aug. 8, 1976.
Ironically, however, this seemingly involuntary enrollment in the military service gave him a lot of benefit and advantage when he ran for official posts as well as political competition because completion of military service was one of the strong assets and advantages of the candidate.
After his discharge, he passed the Bar Exam and was admitted to the Judicial Research and Training Institute.
He graduated second in his graduating class and, despite his superb academic record, was not admitted to become a judge due to his organization of protests as a student against the government, and therefore chose to become a lawyer instead.
When he became a lawyer, he partnered and worked with Roh Moo-hyun. They remained friends up until Roh's death (suicide) in 2009. Along with Roh, he took cases involving human rights and civil rights issues.
He was a member of Minbyun (Lawyers for Democracy) and the Chairman of Human Rights at Busan Bar.
He was a founding member of the progressive Korean-language newspaper, Hankyoreh Shinmun, in 1988. Due to Roh's insistence, he became Roh's campaign manager during his Presidential election. After Roh's victory, Moon became Roh's chief of staff and close aide.
When prosecutors began investigating Roh's corruption charges, Moon was the legal counsel to Roh.

After Roh committed suicide, Moon took charge of the funeral and handling his private affairs. His exposure to the public as a poised and trustworthy aide impressed the public and many liberals inKorea found Moon to be an attractive candidate against the conservative Saenuri Party Candidate Park Geun-hye. However, Moon did not compare favorably with centrist Ahn Cheol-soo who had an overwhelmingly strong support among the young peopleand the established generation who sought an ‘elite’ President and to them it was Ahn and nobody but Ahn who could do it. They highly assessed Ahn as a successful CEO-turned politician. And in this respect, Moon was no match for Ahn. However, Ahn did not have guts, according to his friendly critics, and consequently gave up the candidacy to Moon, reportedly under heavy pressure bearing upon him from the pro-Roh Faction in the opposition party, who wielded the largest measure of influence on the party.
Despite his earlier indifference to politics, Moon began to get involved in the politics. He published a memoir called ‘Moon Jae-in: The Destiny’ which became a bestseller. His popularity has been rising steadily against the likely opponent in the Presidential race, Park Geun-hye. For instance, in a February2012 poll, Moon managed to gain parity with Park in popularity.
Moon managed to capitalize on the declining popularity on the part of conservatives due to a series of corruption scandals.
Moon is married and has one daughter and one son. He is a Roman Catholic. His baptismal name is Timotheus. Moon has reported that he has done activities with the YMCA and that his life and political activities have deep relationships with Christianity. He has said, if he becomes President, he will aim for clean and humble government, which are Christian values.

이경식 기자  edt@koreapost.com

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