South Koreans to vote in key presidential election

South Koreans to vote in key presidential election

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
South Koreans to vote in key presidential election

Park Geun-hye, 60, the daughter of former president, is a strong candidate in the presidential elections. REUTERS Photo

More than 35 million South Koreans are expected to go to the polls tomorrow to elect a new president, whose policies are set to play a key role in delicate relations with North Korea.

The candidates include Park Geun-hye, 60, the daughter of former president Park Chung-hee and from the Saenuri Party of incumbent president Lee Myung-bak, who is a leading hardliner on North Korea. She is softer on North Korea than Lee.

The second candidate is the left-leaning Moon Jae-in, 59, from the opposition Democratic United Party. He is the former chief of staff to the late president Roh Moo-hyun, who came to power in 2002. Roh was the strongest champion of the “sunshine policy” of engagement with North Korea, and his suicide in 2009 during corruption investigations into his family shocked the nation.

In the latest opinion polls last week (none are permitted in the week before the election) Park generally led by just a couple of points, in a race that is being widely seen as neck-and-neck.
Blasting off just one week before South Korea’s presidential election, North Korea’s recent rocket launch appears aimed not only at capturing the attention of the wider world but also at affecting the politics of the South.

Similar previous actions by the North have boosted more conservative candidates in elections in South Korea, but this time it is difficult to observe such indications.

The elections come at a time when South Korea and Turkey are both bidding for two large mutual programs in the two countries.

South Korea is bidding for a $20 billion Turkish program to build the country’s second nuclear power plant in the north of Turkey. However, Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz has said that China, which is not asking for Treasury guarantees, is leading in the race against South Korea, Japan and Canada. South Korea’s position has not recently changed and will be decided according to the new president’s position.

Similarly, a partnership between the Turkish Aerospace Industries and Italy’s AgustaWestlend is competing with U.S. Boeing and Bell Helicopter Textron in a race to provide the South Korean military with up to 50 attack helicopters in a multi-billion dollar competition. International analysts have said Turkey and Italy need to drop their price to have a chance in the contest, which will take up to a year after the election of the new president.

South Korea is expected to use the attack helicopters mainly against the North Korean small fast patrol boats operating in the Yellow Sea, to the west of the two countries. Turkey and South Korea have had close political ties since the Korean War of the 1950s when Turkey was part of the United Nations forces fighting against North Korea and China. The two countries have also recently created good defense ties.

A key election issue is economic democratization. Many Koreans believe the gap between rich and poor is widening, particularly in business. Moon demands reforms of giant, family-run groups such as Samsung and Hyundai which dominate the economy and, critics claim, abuse their power and stifle small firms.