‘Squid game elections’: South Korea’s campaign gets ugly

Seoul, South Korea (AFP) – The race between two of South Korea’s main presidential candidates He witnessed unprecedented levels of toxic rhetoric, defamation and lawsuits.

How bad is that?

“Hitler,” “the beast,” and “parasite” are some of the eclectic insults directed by both camps. Some even call it the “Squid Game Election,” a reference to the Netflix survival drama that has the power to kill where people are killed if they lose children’s games.

And what about bets? There is widespread speculation that the loser will be caught.

“It is a horrific presidential election when the losing contender faces imprisonment. Please survive this fight in the mud!” Senior opposition politician Hong Jun Pyo wrote on Facebook.

A few days before Wednesday’s elections, Lee Jae Myung of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and Yoon Seok Yeol From the Popular Power Party, the main opposition party, he is in an intense race.

Their negative campaigns are exacerbating an already sharp political divide in South Korea at a time when it is facing a battered and epidemic economy, balancing its main ally, Washington, and its largest trading partner, China, and a host of threats. and weapons tests of rival North Korea.

Polls show that both candidates have more criticism than supporters.

“Isn’t our national future so bleak with a bitter and bitter presidential election that requires choosing the lesser of two evils?” “Dong-a Ilbo”, a widely-circulated newspaper, said in an editorial.

Yun Li criticized for his possible connections to the alleged land development scandal. Lee denied any connection to him and, in turn, attempted to link Yoon to the same scandal, while separately criticizing him for his alleged connection to shamanism – an ancient, indigenous religious belief.

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There were also assaults on the candidates’ wives, and each had to apologize for separate scandals.

Yoon described Lee’s party as “Hitler” and “Mussolini” while an aide called Lee’s alleged aides “parasites”. Allies called Lee Yun a “beast”, “dictator” and an “empty box” and mocked his wife’s alleged plastic surgery.

Their campaign teams and supporters have filed dozens of lawsuits for defamation and spreading false information, among other issues.

“This year’s presidential election was more overshadowed by negative campaigning than any other previous election, and mutual hatred will not easily fade after the election,” said Choi Jin, director of the Seoul-based Presidential Leadership Institute.

Among the electorate’s fault lines are regional rivalries in South Korea, views on North Korea, intergenerational conflict, economic inequality, and women’s rights issues.

Yeon is more popular with older voters and those in the southeastern region of Gyeongsangnam, where former conservative and authoritarian leaders came from. His supporters usually advocate a stronger military alliance with the United States and a tougher line on North Korea, and they credit previous authoritarian rulers with rapidly developing the economy after the Korean War.

Lee has more support from young people and from Jeolla Province, Gyeongsang’s rival in the southwest. His supporters generally want an equal footing in relations with the United States and rapprochement with North Korea while harshly criticizing the human rights records of previous authoritarian rulers.

In a notable development, several surveys showed that Yoon had greater approval ratings than Lee from voters between the ages of 18 and 29, most of whom were born after South Korea became a developed country.

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They did not experience poverty and dictatorships. They are very critical of China and North Korea, and have friendly feelings towards the United States and Japan, said Park Sung-min, president of MIN, a Seoul-based political consulting firm.

The deep divisions in South Korea are reflected in the problems of the three previous leaders. Their supporters say the extensive corruption investigations after they left office were politically motivated by their opponents.

During a corruption investigation with his family, former liberal president Roh Moo-hyun jumped to his death in 2009, a year after he left office. His successor, Governor Lee Myung-bak, and Lee’s conservative successor, Park Geun-hye, were separately convicted of a range of crimes, including corruption, and were sentenced to lengthy prison terms after Roh’s friend and current President Moon Jae-in took office in 2017.

Park was pardoned in December, but Lee is still serving a 17-year prison sentence.

Moon’s government has been dealt a major blow with a scandal involving Moon’s former justice minister and close aide, Cho Kok. It is alleged that Cho and his family members engaged in financial crimes and forged credentials to help Cho’s daughter enter medical school.

Chu was seen as a reformist and potentially liberal presidential candidate. Moon’s early attempts to keep Chu in office divided public opinion, with his critics calling for Chu’s resignation and his supporters rallied to his side during large street protests.

Yoon originally worked as Moon’s attorney general and led investigations into previous conservative governments. But he eventually left Moon’s government and joined the opposition last year after a row with Moon allies over the Cho issue helped him emerge as a potential presidential challenger.

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The Cho affair was a turning point in South Korean politics. “He made Yoon a presidential candidate, and many in their twenties and thirties turned to support Moon,” said Choi, director of the institute.

During a recent TV debate, Yoon and Lee agreed not to conduct politically motivated investigations against the other party if they win. But some doubt their sincerity.

In a newspaper interview last month, Yoon said that if elected, his government would investigate possible wrongdoing by the Moon government and also the land development scandal with which Lee is allegedly connected.

When the Moon government has been conducting large-scale investigations of previous conservative governments, Lee said they are necessary to root out “the evils and deep-rooted injustice.”

Cho Jinman, a professor at Dokseong Women’s University in Seoul, said the new president should exercise restraint and calm to calls for political revenge by hard-line supporters.

“We now have an election race like a Squid game, but it will be the responsibility of the new president to get us out of it,” he said.

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Associated Press writer Kim Tong-hyung contributed to this report.

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