‘Squid Game Election’: South Korean campaign gets ugly


The race between South Korea’s two leading presidential candidates has seen unprecedented ranges of poisonous rhetoric, mudslinging and lawsuits.

How unhealthy is it?

“Hitler,” “beast,” and “parasite” are a number of the choicer insults leveled by each camps. Some are even calling it “The Squid Game Election,” in reference to Netflix’s megahit survival drama the place individuals are killed in the event that they lose youngsters’s video games.

And the stakes? There’s widespread hypothesis that the loser might be arrested.

“It’s a dreadful presidential election when the losing contender faces prison. Please survive this dogfight in the mire!” senior opposition politician Hong Joon-pyo wrote on Facebook.

Just days earlier than Wednesday’s election, Lee Jae-myung from the liberal governing Democratic Party and Yoon Suk Yeol from the primary conservative opposition People Power Party are locked in an extremely tight race.

Their detrimental campaigns are aggravating South Korea’s already extreme political divide at a time when it faces a battered, pandemic-hit economic system, a balancing act over competitors between its most important ally, Washington, and its high buying and selling companion, China, and a raft of threats and weapons checks from rival North Korea.

South Korean democratic presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung
Lee Jae-myung, the presidential candidate of the ruling Democratic Party, is greeted by supporters throughout a presidential election campaign in Seoul, South Korea on March 3, 2022.

Opinion surveys present that each candidates have extra critics than supporters.

“Isn’t our national future too bleak with an unpleasant and bitter presidential election that calls for choosing the lesser of two evils?” the mass-circulation Dong-A Ilbo newspaper mentioned in an editorial.

Yoon has slammed Lee over his attainable ties to an allegedly corrupt land improvement scandal. Lee has denied any connection, and in flip has tried to hyperlink Yoon to the identical scandal, whereas individually criticizing him for his reported ties to shamanism — an historical, indigenous non secular perception.

There have additionally been assaults on the candidates’ wives, each of whom have been compelled to apologize over separate scandals.

Yoon described Lee’s get together as “Hitler” and “Mussolini” whereas an affiliate referred to as Lee’s purported aides “parasites.” Lee’s allies referred to as Yoon “a beast,” “dictator” and “an empty can” and derided his spouse’s alleged cosmetic surgery.

Their campaign groups and supporters have filed dozens of lawsuits charging libel and the unfold of false info, amongst different points.

“This year’s presidential election has been more overwhelmed by negative campaigning than any other previous election, and the mutual hatred won’t easily die down after the election,” mentioned Choi Jin, director of the Seoul-based Institute of Presidential Leadership.

Among the fault strains within the voters are South Korean regional rivalries, views on North Korea, a battle between generations, financial inequality and girls’s rights points.

Yoon is extra widespread with older voters and people within the southeastern area of Gyeongsang, the place previous conservative and authoritarian leaders got here from. His supporters sometimes advocate a stronger navy alliance with the United States and a harder line on North Korea, and so they credit score previous authoritarian rulers for shortly growing the economic system after the Korean War.

People Power Party presidential candidate Yoon Suk Yeol
Yoon Suk Yeol, heart, presidential candidate of the primary opposition People Power Party, is greeted by supporters throughout a presidential election campaign in Seoul, South Korea on Feb. 15, 2022.

Lee enjoys larger assist from youthful individuals and people from Jeolla province, Gyeongsang’s rival area within the southwest. His supporters typically need an equal footing in relations with the United States and rapprochement with North Korea whereas being extraordinarily essential of previous authoritarian rulers’ human rights information.

In a notable improvement, many surveys confirmed Yoon has obtained larger approval rankings than Lee from voters aged 18 to 29, most of whom have been born after South Korea turned a developed nation.

“They didn’t experience poverty and dictatorships. … They are very critical of China and North Korea, and they have rather friendly feelings toward the U.S. and Japan,” mentioned Park Sung-min, head of Seoul-based MIN Consulting, a political consulting agency.

South Korea’s deep divisions are mirrored within the troubles of the final three leaders. Their supporters say intense corruption investigations after they left workplace have been politically motivated by their rivals.

During a corruption probe of his household, former liberal President Roh Moo-hyun jumped to his dying in 2009, a 12 months after he left workplace. His successor, the conservative Lee Myung-bak, and Lee’s conservative successor, Park Geun-hye, have been individually convicted of a spread of crimes, together with corruption, and given prolonged jail phrases after Roh’s buddy and present President Moon Jae-in took workplace in 2017.

Park was pardoned in December, however Lee continues to be serving a 17-year jail time period.

Moon’s authorities took an enormous hit with a scandal involving Moon’s former justice minister and shut affiliate, Cho Kuk. Cho and his relations are alleged to have participated in monetary crimes and the faking of credentials to assist Cho’s daughter enter medical college.

Cho was seen as a reformist and potential liberal presidential hopeful. Moon’s early makes an attempt to maintain Cho in workplace break up the general public, along with his critics calling for Cho’s resignation and supporters rallying to his facet throughout massive road protests.

Presidential candidates in Seoul, South Korea
Placards that includes ruling and opposition presidential candidates grasp over a road in Seoul, South Korea on Feb. 17, 2022.

Yoon initially served as Moon’s prosecutor basic and spearheaded investigations of earlier conservative governments. But he ultimately left Moon’s authorities and joined the opposition final 12 months after a battle with Moon’s allies over the Cho case helped him emerge as a possible presidential contender.

“Cho’s case was a watershed in South Korean politics. It made Yoon a presidential candidate, and many in their 20s and 30s switched their support from Moon,” mentioned Choi, the institute director.

During a latest TV debate, Yoon and Lee agreed to not launch politically motivated investigations in opposition to the opposite facet in the event that they win. But some query their sincerity.

In a newspaper interview final month, Yoon mentioned that if elected, his authorities would examine attainable wrongdoing by the Moon authorities and in addition the land improvement scandal that Lee has been allegedly linked to.

When Moon’s authorities was conducting widespread investigations of previous conservative governments, Lee mentioned they have been essential to eradicate “deep-rooted evils and injustice.”

Cho Jinman, a professor at Seoul’s Duksung Women’s University, mentioned a brand new president should train restraint and calm requires political revenge by hard-line supporters.

“We now have an election race like ‘Squid Game,’ but it will be a new president’s responsibility to pull us out of it,” he mentioned.

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