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South Korea: The Challenges and prospects for the new president

South Korea: The Challenges and prospects for the new president

The 19th South Korean presidential election was held on 9 May 2017, after the impeachment and dismissal of Park Geun-hye. The election was conducted in a single round on a first-past-the-post basis. In the multiparty election the participating candidates included the Democratic Party’s candidate, Moon Jae-in, former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who declined to run in February, Ahn Hee-jung, People’s Party’s  Ahn Cheol-soo and Liberty Korea Party’s candidate, Hong Jun-pyo etc. The election was originally scheduled to be held on 20 December 2017, but was moved earlier after the decision of the Constitutional Court on 10 March 2017 to uphold the parliament’s impeachment of Park Geun-hye. In order to avoid a power vacuum, then-Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn succeeded Park as the acting president. After Park was removed from the office by the Constitutional Court’s ruling, acting president Hwang indicated he would not run for a term in his own right.

Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party of Korea won the plurality of the votes (41.08% in contrast to 24.03% won by his closest opponent Hong Joon-pyo, thus winning this election. He assumed the office as the President of South Korea immediately upon the confirmation of the results on 10 May 2017 and was inaugurated in the National Assembly at the afternoon on the same day.

The victory of Moon Jae-in marks returning the nation’s liberals to power after nearly a decade in the political wilderness and setting up a potential rift with the United States over the North’s nuclear weapons program. In a nationally televised speech before cheering supporters, Mr. Moon declared that he would “be a president for all the people.” He said he would work with political rivals to create a country where “justice rules and common sense prevails.”

The new President would have many challenges in the coming days as the aspirations of the people is soaring high after the ouster of a corruption tainted previous government and impeachment of the former president marked by mammoth protests. The impeachment forced a South Korean president from office for the first time in almost 60 years, leaving the conservative establishment in disarray and its former leader in jail.

South Korea elected Moon Jae-in, 64 years old human rights lawyer, a son of North Korean refugees, faces the challenge of enacting changes to limit the power of big business and address the abuses uncovered in his predecessor’s downfall. He must also make good on his promise of a new approach to North Korea while balancing relations with the United States and China. The new South Korean President favors dialogue with North Korea. Mr. Moon has argued that Washington’s reliance on sanctions and pressure has been ineffective and that it is time to give engagement and dialogue with the North another chance, an approach favored by China. He has also called for a review of the Pentagon’s deployment of an antimissile defense system in South Korea that the Chinese government has denounced.

Mr. Moon’s position on North Korea is a sharp departure from that of his two immediate predecessors, conservatives who tended to view anything less than strict enforcement of sanctions against the North as ideologically suspect. While he condemned “the ruthless dictatorial regime of North Korea” during his campaign, Mr. Moon also argued that South Korea must “embrace the North Korean people to achieve peaceful reunification one day.” “To do that, we must recognize Kim Jong-un as their ruler and as our dialogue partner,” he said. “The goal of sanctions must be to bring North Korea back to the negotiating table.” Mr. Moon’s view of North Korea echoes the approach of the two liberal presidents who held power from 1998 to 2008 and pursued a so-called sunshine policy toward the North that included diplomatic talks, family reunions and joint economic projects, such as the Kaesong industrial park in North Korea, near the demilitarized zone. Some analysts say Mr. Moon’s victory could lower the temperature of the North Korean standoff, prompting Washington and Pyongyang to pause and assess the effect of the new government in Seoul on their policies.

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