SEOUL Will PURSUE WArmer Relations WITH PyongyangSouth Koreans go to the polls on 9 May to vote for a new leader following the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye – a first in the country's history. She has been indicted on corruption charges stemming from accusations that she and a longtime friend and confidante conspired to solicit millions of dollars in bribes and could face up to life in prison if convicted.
The collapse of political forces on the right that accompanied Park's fall from power provided a huge boost to the popularity of the left-of-center Democratic Party of Korea and its nominee for president, Moon Jae-in. Barring an unexpected scandal or some other unforeseen and serious calamity, Moon appears well placed to cruise to victory next week.
Leading the Pack (and then some)
Recent surveys show Moon firmly in the pole position after a string of lackluster debate performances by his primary rival, Ahn Cheol-soo of the centrist People's Party. Ahn polled neck-and-neck with Moon at the beginning of April, but the gap between the two has widened since then to 20 points or more in many recent surveys.
There's still a small risk that a large anti-Moon coalition forms between the center and the right late in the campaign behind a single candidate and turns the tide against him. But neither of the two principal candidates on the right will be able to catch up with Moon over the next several days even if they were to join forces. Ahn appears to be floundering, with his former supporters now moving behind Moon or Hong Joon-pyo, the candidate of the conservative Liberty Korea Party.
What a Moon Administration Will Look Like
A government under Moon would pursue more, and more independent, political and economic engagement with Pyongyang. Moon would seek improved relations with China and has pledged to review the Park government's decision to deploy the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system. Moon is also committed to increasing fiscal spending, especially on social safety net programs and job creation, and advancing reforms to rein in the economic and political power of the chaebols—South Korea's large, family-controlled business conglomerates.
The election of a progressive South Korean president with ideas for a fresh approach to address the North Korea threat will fuel tensions with the US under President Donald Trump, but the bilateral security alliance will remain strong.
Scott Seaman focuses on the economic and trade policies and foreign relations of Japan and South Korea. His sectoral expertise includes energy, insurance, and information technologies.