On Wednesday, South Koreans head to the polls for elections in the National Assembly. The voting comes several weeks after conservative President Lee Myung Bak was sworn into office. But rising tensions on the Korean peninsula have done little to sway voters away from the new president or his party.
South Koreans are hoping for a revitalisation of the economy
Politicians from the governing right-of-centre Grand National Party (GNP) have been greeted by cheering crowds in the run-up to Wednesday’s parliamentary elections.
With all 299 seats in the South Korean National Assembly up for grabs, the media here predicts that the GNP will come away with a landslide victory.
But the popularity of politicians from President Lee Myung Bak’s camp has little to do with their own individual platforms. Rather, it has more to do with voter dissatisfaction after ten years of liberal rule.
At least, according to Lee Sang Hyun of the Sejong Institute: “I think one of the most important factors for this election is some sort of an evaluation of the former government, Noh Moo Hyun. Many conservative people are disappointed.”
Hopes of revitalisation
Lee says that issues such as a skyrocketing real estate market and lacklustre economic growth still have many voters upset with the former administration. They are counting on Lee Myung Bak, a former Hyundai CEO, to revitalize the nation.
Moreover, despite recent threats from North Korea to turn South Korea into ashes, Lee Sang Hyun doesn’t think voters will be swayed by Pyongyang’s rhetoric: “Even though North Korea threatened an immediate outbreak of war, nothing happened. That is the lesson we have learned from interacting with North Korea.”
However, one of President Lee’s economic projects is dividing the public -- his plan to construct a 540-kilometre-long shipping canal from the capital Seoul to the southern port city of Busan, with a price tag of around 16 billion US dollars.
A recent protest against the Grand Canal in Seoul attracted several hundred demonstrators. Environmental activists say that local ecosystems will be destroyed if construction goes ahead.
33-year-old protestor Park Mal Ri says she cannot understand why Lee is pushing for such an impractical project. “This is not helpful at all to the Korean economy. Lee is ignoring public opinion. This project will end up hurting the environment.”
Analyst Lee Sang Hyun warns that the president’s popularity could be dealt a severe blow if the canal plan becomes reality: “The majority of people oppose idea. South Korea is a very small country. What’s the real benefit of such a big civil engineering project? If he continues along that line, more people will be disappointed in him than supporting him.”
While the Grand National Party is expected to win the majority of seats in Wednesday’s election, it’s not at all certain it will obtain the two-thirds majority needed to approve the canal project.