Sunday, November 25, 2007

South Korea Election 2007: What you need to know...

We are several weeks away from the upcoming 2007 South Korean presidential election. Three men are best positioned. With some controversies, I'm still not sure who will win. I'm currently polling across several generations of scholars, business, students, and workers to get more input.

Readers to this Blog are asked to comment....

In the meantime, here is my update....

BTW For those working for and with Korea-based global firms, the outcome of the election will impact you. These include issues like the US-Korea FTA, the strong Won, and how aggressive South Korea embraces globalization.

Yonhap did the following profiles on the three major candidates for the Dec. 19 presidential election. Each enjoys support ratings of more than 10 percent in opinion polls. There are also a number of men running with little chance of success.

Lee Myung-bak -- the opposition Grand National Party (center photo).

Lee would become the first businessman turned head-of-state in South Korean history if he wins the presidential election in December.

The 66-year-old Lee, a former Seoul mayor and ex-CEO of Hyundai Engineering and Construction Co., commands a roughly 40 percent approval rating, the highest among presidential candidates. But some believe that Lee might falter in the run-up to the election because of suspicions that he was entangled in illegal stock manipulation involving an investment advisory company called BBK, now being investigated by prosecutors.

Before Lee enter politics, he worked for Hyundai's construction company from 1965 to 1992, heading the company for more than half of the time he worked for it, and contributing to South Korea's economic miracle after the 1950-53 Korean War.

Lee, who earned the nickname "bulldozer" for his aggressive style at Hyundai, won a seat in the National Assembly in 1992 and 1996. He was elected mayor of Seoul in 2002, with his four-year tenure ending in late June in 2006.

Lee Hoi-chang -- independent (right photo).

Conservative Lee, who is calling for a tough policy on North Korea, a pro-business environment and an end to the "leftist regime", is running for president for the third straight time. He lost in 1997 and 2002 as a candidate of the conservative Grand National Party (GNP).

Lee, 72, an independent presidential candidate, enjoys about 20 percent support following the GNP's standard-bearer Lee Myung-bak. Critics claim Lee Hoi-chang's third presidential bid will divide the conservative vote.

Born to an elite family, Lee rose quickly to success in South Korea. He became a judge at the age of 25 and the youngest-ever Supreme Court judge at 45.

Lee entered party politics in 1996 as a lawmaker of the New Korea Party, the predecessor of the GNP, and was the GNP's presidential candidate in 1997 and 2002. But he lost to underdog liberal candidate Roh Moo-hyun in 2002, in part because of allegations that his two sons dodged military service by fabricating data bout their health. After his defeat, Lee announced his departure from politics.

Chung Dong-young -- the pro-government United New Democratic Party (UNDP) (left photo).

The 54-year-old Chung, who supports rapprochement with North Korea, worked for local broadcasting company MBC as a reporter and an anchor until the early 1990s. His political career began in 1996 as spokesman for then opposition leader Kim Dae-jung, South Korea's former president.

Chung served two terms as a lawmaker with the then-ruling New Millennium Democratic Party, and after losing in the party's primary race ahead of the 2002 presidential election, threw his support to then-underdog contender Roh Moo-hyun.

Chung, named unification minister in 2005, transformed himself into an expert on inter-Korean relations. As unification minister, he met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang while the North was boycotting the multilateral talks on its nuclear weapons program.

But his ties with Roh soured as the president's approval rating fell, and Chung led dozens of lawmakers to defect from the now-defunct Uri Party. He played a key role in creating the UNDP.

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