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(News Focus) Moon's election reflects desire to purge old evils, change gov't

2017/05/10 00:46

By Lee Haye-ah

SEOUL, May 10 (Yonhap) -- Moon Jae-in's victory in Tuesday's presidential election was more than anything else driven by a deep yearning for government change and a purge of old evils following a massive corruption scandal that removed the former conservative leader from office, experts said.

As the presidential favorite of the liberal Democratic Party, Moon stood at the forefront of a nationwide campaign to oust Park Geun-hye amid allegations she let a friend meddle in state affairs and colluded with her to extort money from conglomerates.

The former human rights lawyer crusaded for cleaning up old evils revealed through the scandal and reuniting the nation deeply divided over Park's impeachment.

Moon Jae-in is driven away from his home in northwestern Seoul to head to the headquarters of his Democratic Party on May 9, 2017. (Yonhap) Moon Jae-in is driven away from his home in northwestern Seoul to head to the headquarters of his Democratic Party on May 9, 2017. (Yonhap)

Moon and his aides insist these seemingly contradictory goals are parallel steps that must go hand in hand.

"Unity is not achieved by covering everything up," said a key aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "What we need is unity that is just and based on principles."

   Moon stressed the point in his final address to the nation a day before the election.

"Unity is achieved where corruption and special privileges are removed through reform, and only such unity can end division and unite the people's strengths," he said. "Only by starting reform can we complete national unity."

   The call resonated with many voters in the wake of the unprecedented impeachment.

"The main reason (for Moon's victory) was the strong public desire for government change," Kim Hyung-joon, a politics professor at Seoul's Myongji University, told Yonhap by phone.

That desire coupled with the impeachment and the 10-year swing of government change between conservatives and liberals to make Moon a likely president, he added.

"Plus, Moon had prepared for this for the past five years. He had that advantage."

   The 64-year-old ran in the last presidential election in 2012 but lost to Park. In the five years since, voter alignment by ideology and region has also diminished, the professor noted.

Moon Jae-in (L) and his wife Kim Jung-sook are seated on a rock on a mountain near their home in northwestern Seoul on May 9, 2017. (Yonhap) Moon Jae-in (L) and his wife Kim Jung-sook are seated on a rock on a mountain near their home in northwestern Seoul on May 9, 2017. (Yonhap)

Choi Chang-ryul, a politics professor at Yong In University, south of Seoul, attributed Moon's victory to his emphasis on removing old evils.

"He was able to read the mentality of the times," Choi said in a phone interview with Yonhap. "It fit the public sentiment of the candlelight rallies" that drove the impeachment.

On the other hand, Ahn Cheol-soo, the candidate of the center-left People's Party, lost the support of the younger generations because of his ambivalent stance on the rallies, he added.

But others attributed Moon's success to sheer luck.

"Why did he win? Because the vote was split (among five main candidates)," said Shin Yul, a politics professor at Myongji University. "We can't talk about the candle sentiment because he was elected with even less support than the number of people who participated in the rallies."

   Some expressed concern that it isn't clear whether any of the candidates, including Moon, were prepared to respond to the call of the times, at least judging from their campaigns.

"What we saw in the squares was a call for people's sovereignty, but I'm skeptical about how much political change the candidates were talking about, how much change in governance they were talking about and whether they demonstrated a clear understanding of the governance (required for people's sovereignty)," said Song Ho-keun, a sociology professor at Seoul National University. "I don't see how this election was different from the past elections in that sense."

   hague@yna.co.kr

(END)

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