Moon Jae-in, who lost Korea’s 2012 presidential to the now arrested former president Park Geun-hye and served as an aide to president Roh Moo-hyun, has officially won the Minjoo (Democratic) Party’s nomination and is the favorite to win Korea’s presidential election on May 9.

B+D editor Mitchell Blatt presents some links to explain what to look for in the election:
As the Korea Herald‘s Jo He-rim points out, Moon is considered by his supporters as a liberal defender of civil rights:

A native of Geoje, South Gyeongsang Province, Moon was a human rights lawyer-turned-chief of staff to liberal President Roh Moo-hyun, before entering the National Assembly in 2012. … As a former member of Lawyers for a Democratic Society, or Minbyeon, Moon has built an image as a champion of human rights and democracy as well as an advocate of a fair and just society.

His core support base is made up of liberal-minded voters who idolize the late former President Roh. A large proportion of supporters of the Democratic Party regard him as the successor to continue the legacy of the late president, who championed making politics work for ordinary citizens, not for those with vested rights.

Full article: Moon seals Democratic primary victory

But Moon’s connections to Minbyeon (also called Minbyun) and to Roh are viewed with suspicion by conservatives who consider the group and the former president to be radical leftists. Minbyun has even taken court actions aimed at forcing 12 North Korean defectors to testify in circumstances that could expose them or their families to harm.

About two months after fleeing their oppressive homeland, 12 former workers of a North Korean restaurant in China on Tuesday faced a legal debate over the legitimacy of their stay here under state protection.

Pyongyang also claims that the new arrivals were “lured and kidnapped” by South Korean agents and demands their repatriation.

The spy agency has declined the association’s appeal to meet with them at their shelter, saying the restaurant servers had volunteered to come.

Yet controversy is simmering as the court issued a summons to the 12 people, fueling concerns over their safety and that of their family members left behind in the North.

Joshua Stanton, an American who writes the conservative blog FreeKorea.us, wrote on the subject:
Minbyun’s frivolous lawfare terrorizes 12 young N. Korean refugees & endangers lives.
S. Korea’s quisling left goes all-out to bully N. Koreans out of defecting, and it just might work

Roh Moo-hyun is also criticized for having continued the Sunshine Policy towards North Korea and held “anti-American” views. As John Lee, a conservative Korea columnist, told Bombs + Dollars, Roh even asked on national TV, “What is wrong with being anti-American?”

A memoir by Song Min-soon, who served as foreign minister during Roh’s presidency, even claims that Moon advised Roh to solicit advice from North Korea before voting on a UN referendum on North Korean human rights abuses.

Kim Hyo-jin explained in the Korea Times:

According to Song’s memoir, amid a sharp dispute between top officials over whether South Korea should vote in favor of or against the U.N. resolution in November 2007, then-intelligence chief Kim Man-bok floated the idea of asking North Korea’s opinion directly, which Presidential Chief of Staff Moon accepted, saying “let’s check through an inter-Korean channel.”

A few days later, Song was informed that North Korea said it would closely keep an eye on the South’s vote, warning of the possibility of dangerous circumstances in inter-Korean relations. Baek Jong-chun, then chief secretary on foreign and security policy, delivered a note describing the response to Song in person while accompanying the President at his residence.

At that time, President Roh told Song “Let’s go for abstention now that we’ve already asked. We shouldn’t have asked,” Song wrote in his memoir.

Full article: Memoir puts Moon Jae-in in hot water

Most polls put Moon in the lead, but one particular poll puts People’s Party candidate Ahn Cheol-soo in the lead in a two-man race. Moon was considering having the election commission investigate the poll, as his camp claimed it used an unrepresentative sample, the Korea Herald reported.

As of now, however, there are five candidates running:
Moon Jae-in: The favorite and the nominee of the main liberal party, Minjoo/Democratic
Ahn Cheol-soo: Member of the National Assembly since 2013 and the founder of the center-left reformist People’s Party
Sim Sang-jung: Member of the National Assembly from 2004-08 and 2012-present and the chairwoman of the far left Justice Party. She is polling in the low single digits.
Hong Jun-pyo: Governor of South Gyeongsang Province (at the south eastern border) and long-time member of the National Assembly representing Park’s party, the Korean Liberty Party (formerly Saenuri). He is heavily weighed down by the Park scandal, polling in the low tens.
Yoo Seong-min: Member of the National Assembly since 2004, originally with the Saenuri Party. He resigned in July 2015 in a split with Saenuri and then won election again to the National Assembly as an independent and then formed the Bareun Party with other conservatives who were disenchanted due to the Park scandal. He polls in the single digits.

The Korean Liberty Party is trying to get Baerun to unite with them for the election, but taken together, the two parties would still finish third, and, anyway, Baerun doesn’t seem amenable to accommodate the KLP. The best option for anti-Moon voters would appear to be voting for Ahn.

Make sure to read other B+D coverage of the impeachment and election:
Why Korea’s election might not change North Korean policy
The implications of Park’s removal from office for Korea

Feature photo by Valentin Janiaut, used with Creative Commons license.


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