Park Geun-hye

In Korea, who will take on Park?

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 November, 2012, 12:56am


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The decision by South Korea's two left-leaning presidential candidates to merge their campaigns to avoid splitting their vote was a no-brainer if they are to have any chance of defeating conservative candidate Park Geun-hye, daughter of former president Park Chung-hee, the father of the country's economic growth. A harder decision comes next. That is, who will run against her on December 19 - Moon Jae-in of the left-leaning opposition Democratic United Party, or academic and software mogul Ahn Chul-soo? It has to be made before a November 26 deadline.

Ahn emerged as an independent third candidate amid widespread dislike of both the DUP and Park's conservative Saenuri Party. Although more popular, Ahn seems likely to yield to Moon, perhaps in return for the promise of a beefed up role as prime minister under Moon. But that would still leave them with some work to do to defeat Park, since polls have found that one in five of each man's supporters would be unlikely to vote for the other. An ageing voter population also helps Park.

The candidates all advocate expanding social welfare, boosting jobs and reducing the income gap, and are pledging to curb the power of the chaebols, the country's giant, family run industrial conglomerates that thrived under Park senior's rule. With the pace of economic growth at a three-year low and household debt weighing on personal income, reform of the chaebols is gaining traction with voters.

The opacity of their operations and intra-chaebol dealings disadvantage both consumers and investors through pricing, reduced valuations and shares traded at a discount to Asian indices. And the chaebols' dominance makes it difficult for large competitive companies to emerge.

Whoever wins the election, they must be mindful of the interests of investors and consumers in reforming them. A heavy handed approach could backfire. But she or he will have a mandate to let some light into these opaque structures, which will enhance the interests of both groups.