Another roundup of Korean politics as the National Assembly elections are 15 days away:

  • Jock Ph. D. — an oxymoron?  I do have great admiration for very smart athletes. But Moon Dae-Seong, NFP candidate for Busan Saha-gu 1, is apparently not one of them. Moon is a former Olympic gold medalist in taekwondo, and now a member of the International Olympics Committee. Moon is now in hot water, as he allegedly plagiarized his Ph. D. thesis. We are not talking about a few missed quotation marks here and there. Moon’s thesis copied a previously existing thesis word-for-word for more than 20% of his thesis. (Moon’s thesis even has the same typo as the original.)
  • Go west, young NFP.  The progressives’ foray into Busan and Gyeongsang-do is the big news nowadays, but an upset could be quietly brewing in the other direction. In Gwangju Seo-gu 2, NFP’s candidate Lee Jeong-Hyeon has leading UPP’s Oh Byeong-Yoon by around 3 percent. If Lee holds, he would be the first conservative Assemblyman from Gwangju in 27 years.
  • Lies, damned lies and KRW 30 million.  Oh, Sohn Su-Jo. How I hoped that you would be the next scion of healthy conservatism in Korea. Instead, the 27-year-old conservative darling who bravely challenged the heavyweight Moon Jae-In in Busan is caught in her lies, flailing for her survival. Sohn initially promised that she would run her campaign only with KRW 30 million, which was the deposit for her apartment in Seoul. However, not only did she spend far past KRW 30 million, but also she was hanging onto the deposit. (Instead, she has been using her parents’ money.) NFP at first appeared to distance itself from Sohn, but Park Geun-Hye again visited Sohn in Busan in support.
  • “Victorious warriors win first, then go to war.”  Said Sun Tzu. Kim Jong-Hoon, NFP candidate for Seoul Gangnam 2, apparently took this lesson to heart. Kim, known for his leadership of KORUS FTA, said on a radio interview that he did not want to run in “some dark place,” referring to electoral districts north of the Han river. NFP granted Kim’s wish, slating him to run in the richest neighborhood in Seoul in which conservatives has had 2-to-1 advantage in votes in the last two decades. Even Ye Olde Chosun criticized this move as “embarrassing.” In contrast, the progressives put out Chung Dong-Yeong, one of DUP’s heaviest heavyweights who had been the most vocal opposing KORUS FTA. Kim is leading Chung by 8 to 10 percent.
  • Wolf! Wolf! Communist! Communist!  It would not be elections time if the NFP did not rely on the old faithful. Lee Jeong-Hee, co-chair of the UPP, withdrew her candidacy at Seoul Gwanak 2 on the allegation that her staff encouraged respondents to lie on the phone survey that served as the progressive primary. Following her withdrawal, conservative media began reporting that her decision to withdraw was made by Gyeonggi East Alliance, a faction in the former Democratic Labor Party. According to reports, Gyeonggi East Alliance is a particularly hardcore communist faction controlled by Lee’s husband. UPP claims that the organization disappeared 10 years ago. Problem for NFP is that in the last few elections, “crying communist” strategy backfired. NFP’s Seoul area candidates, in particular, are complaining that the party is shooting itself in the foot by engaging in this tactic.
  • Ahn Cheol-Soo is still alive.  And he apparently has a clear view on the role he plays in Korean politics. In a recent talk, Ahn said that if he declared that he would not be involved in politics, the current politicians would not feel the pressure to change from their old ways.
  • The Bottom Line.  As of March 27, both NFP and DUP/UPP are expected to win approximately 130 seats. All in all, looks like we are heading into a close one.