Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Election Day

Today is Election Day and I get the day off. Voters are electing mayors, city council members, and provincial legislators.

For the past couple of weeks the main roads in this city have been decorated with big campaign banners featuring a portrait of the candidate, the candidate's name, and often a slogan (along the lines of "Clean Politics!" or "Strong Growth for Mapo-gu!"). And there have been the little trucks - trucks with posters with beautiful portraits of the candidate, slogans, and photos with the candidate posing with more famous politicians (usually Park Geun-hye if the candidate is GNP). And there are the songs - many of these trucks blast out music where the candidate's name is repeated endlessly. There are often squads of people in identical T-shirts bowing in unison to passers-by on the candidate's behalf. And the candidates themselves often make an appearance, wearing a sash with their name, and chatting with pedestrians (though I've seen candidates directing pedestrian traffic at cross-walks.)

There is a candidate in my neighborhood with the unfortunate name of Kim Jeong-il. A few days ago I could hear a song about him from my sixth-floor apartment. I could close my eyes and pretend I was living in North Korea.

Walking through Gongdeok Market yesterday I saw a brightly colored parked truck selling king shrimp - Wang Saeu. For a moment I thought it was a campaign truck that belonged to a candidate names Wang Sae-woo. And the picture of shrimp was some sort of pun based on his name.

The general belief is that this election is going to leave President Roh Moo-hyun unhappy and strengthen the position of the Hannara Dang, or Grand National Party, or GNP. This has seemed even more likely since the incident a week and a half ago, when GNP leader Park Geun-hye was attacked by a man with a box cutter and spent a week in the hospital recovering. It's still not clear whether he actually intended to kill her or not, but the public outrage - and sympathy - because of the attack seems to be helping the GNP. The Western District Public Prosecutor's Office, where the case against the assailant is being assembled, lies between my apartment and Gondeok subway station. Whenever I pass it now I see demonstrators holding signs in support of Park Geun-hye. Something of an exciting development in my neighborhood.

People are already talking about Park Geun-hye as her party's candidate for President in 2007. My friends have opinions that range from "I don't like Park Geun-hye" to "I don't want Park Geun-hye to be President." I know little about her, besides who her father was. I can't think of a single elected female national leader in Asia whose father hadn't been an important person (actually, I think Golda Mier's an exception). Park's father probably still stands as the most prominent individual in South Korean political history - and he is remembered quite negatively by most younger Koreans, who remember him as an oppressive dictator.

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