Have a fabulous 2012


Gaga: Rest in Peace (b.2002 - d.2010)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

2012 South Korean Elections Today...(towards dynatic politics?)

I wrote this for a Korean Magazine last week and when it will be published I will leave a URL.

With less than a week left in South Korea’s sixth Presidential election scheduled to be held on December 19, what does this election hold for Korean voters?

South Korea’s transition from being a dictatorship to a democracy has a fairly short history. It was not until 1987 that Korea held its first general elections in a free and fair manner. No wonder that its march to democracy can be benchmarked for other countries in Asia, a continent where dynastic politics, personalities and certain families dominate the electoral scene for reasons which include deep roots in dictatorships, feudalism, lack of democracy at grassroots level and the involvement of large amounts of money. South Korea has been an exception thus far but it seems to be fading away gradually. These upcoming elections are going to be a watershed in the development and evolution of political and ideological preferences of the South Koreans as well as the democratic process, per se. 
From the perspective of someone who has grown up in and now living in Seoul for the past decade or so, dictatorships are what we Pakistanis grew up with and are most familiar with. More than half of the country’s history is overshadowed by dictatorships. Even when democratic governments took reigns of power, family members of these dictators joined mainstream politics and clung to power from the platform of one or the other political party. South Asia in particular and Asia in general is the most favored breeding ground for dynastic politics and the chosen ones. 
Zooming in on South Korea, the two major candidates for these upcoming elections – Park Geun-hye and Moon Jae-in are considered the political legacies of the past. One is the daughter of an army general and the other – a close friend/aid of a former president. All the surveys thus far have shown a very narrow gap in terms of their lead on each other but mostly in media, Park Geun-hye seems to be the favorite to win. Almost all polls showed that she is leading the race even if it is with a slight margin. Already major international newspapers are predicting that she is very close to becoming the first female president of South Korea. 
Many voters within the age group of 50 and above want to vote for Ms. Park and there are several reasons to it which include their sympathy for the woman whose parents were assassinated. Moreover, she is the daughter of a general who laid the foundation for one of Asia’s great economic success stories. It was General Park Chung-hee’s rule of 18 years that Korea broke its shackles of poverty; saw the miraculous economic growth and development. Last but not the least, she is also seen as the first woman who may lead South Korea, a country that is his highly patriarchal and Confucian in nature and none of the neighboring countries in the region ever saw a woman heading a government yet in Northeast Asia.
With this heavy baggage if she is elected for the top office then Korea will enter this long list of Asian countries where we see dynastic politics. But what is wrong with dynastic politics? Actually, in principle, there is nothing wrong with political dynasties. In practice, however, it reinforces the exclusionary power structure. Fatima Bhutto, niece of Pakistan’s former prime minter Benazir Bhutto, when asked why she doesn’t enter politics since her grandfather and her aunt both served several terms as presidents and prime ministers of Pakistan replied: 
"Dynasty is fundamentally incomparable with the democracy and they are opposites. While dynasty is exclusive, democracy is inclusive. Democracy inspires participation. Dynasty enforces closed policy. Democracy is all about creative differences, tolerance for the unknown and dynasty is all about self."
In my country Pakistan, we have seen the stranglehold of dynastic families on politics and how it has deterred capable people from entering politics, since they don’t stand much chance of winning. For those who do enter politics their chances of reaching the top are very few. On the other hand, for the family of the political/military elites, they do not have to struggle too much to reach the top echelons of power since they are always in the public eye and for them to reach prominent positions is relatively easy. This holds true for Ms. Park also who was the de-facto First Lady of Korea, at a young age of 22 years only, after her mother’s assassination. So if we have to compare her, the Gandhi’s in India and the Bhuttos in Pakistan is what Park Geun-hye will be to Korea – which surely is not an ideal situation because once this starts it is really difficult to stop.
One of the experts on the subject is Professor Ronald U. Mendoza who notes that dynastic politics in particular, is “pernicious” in so far as it retards a democracy’s ability to respond to its citizens’ needs and people’s empowerment in general. It is to be seen what these elections hold for the people of Korea – will they vote for the dynastic politics or not!