We are talking Korean elections today. The 2022 Korean election will probably be known as the ‘Squid Game’ Election. Our Korean politics reporter Choi Kyoungmi reports on Lee Jae Myoung’s strong victory in the DPK primaries. Then Rod Rothwell and Alex Jensen look a little deeper and discuss what exactly it means to be the Squid Game election. How does this dystopian drama reflect some of the cracks in the Korean dream? It’s a lively discussion that we hope you will enjoy.
Alex talks Korean politics with Choi Kyungmi and then discusses the, 'Squid Game' election with Rod Rothwell
Alex Jensen: You’re listening to Koreabizcast with the KBLA. I’m Alex Jensen, and it’s Friday, October 15. A big month so far for the presidential race, as the ruling party’s picked its candidate to succeed Moon Jae-in. He was only allowed at one term remember. So far, there’s been plenty of mudslinging as you probably expect. So today we’ll seek some clarity with an overview of where we’re at with the election build up as of now, we’ll also ask how far the hit drama ‘Squid game’ reflects Korean society. Does it for instance, suggest people here are going to more readily accept cash handouts in the form of a universal basic income. And why are subversive Korean contents like Squid game and Parasite, the ones that have made it so big globally, as ever, we’d also love it. If you could give us some feedback, get involved in our Koreabizcast community or just share a great idea. Send us a message via LinkedIn search KBLA.
Alex Jensen: Conversations are increasingly going to turn to the presidential election in the coming weeks with the big day now less than five months away. And the ruling party choosing its contender in just the last few days. We want to make sure you know what’s going on. So, our special issues reporter Kyungmi, Choi we’ll be keeping an eye on the election for us, and she joins us now. Thank you Kyungmi.
Choi Kyungmi: Thank you for having me.
Alex Jensen: Last time, we looked at all of this pretty much through the lens of the housing crisis. But while that’s still relevant, we’re going to look mainly at the ruling Democratic Party to start off with because they’ve now confirmed Gyeonggi governor Lee Jae-myung as the main candidate or their only candidate for next year’s election, after he won in their various primaries. So, what happened?
Choi Kyungmi: Right, so Lee Jae-myung wins comes after he obtained 50.29% of the total votes, and he became the official candidate without having to face a runoff as he won a majority of the votes. And he was followed by former prime minister and party leader Lee Nak-yon with 39.14%, former Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae was 9.01% and lawmaker Park Yong-jin with 1.55%. And the ruling party held 11 primary races in which only members could vote. But it also held three rounds of electoral college votes all which are both party members and the general public took part in so Lee Jae-myung came in first and all races except for the ones in Gwangju and South Jeolla province, where he lost to Lee Nak-yon. And the Gyeonggi governor also won in the two first rounds of the electoral votes but saw major defeat in the third and the last one. So, in fact, he failed to get even half the votes compared to Lee Nak-yon who won in the last round of the electoral college vote. And the third round was carried out from last Wednesday to Sunday and 62.3% of the votes or around 155,000 votes went to a runner up Lee Nak-yon compared to only 28.3% or 74,000 votes for Lee Jae-myung.
Alex Jensen: Well, this has actually been a source of suspicion, hasn’t it? many pundits and party members have questioned the result. They say Lee Jae-myung had been so comfortable in the two previous rounds that they didn’t really understand after that, and the primary voting Seoul that there would be such a turnaround.
Choi Kyungmi: That’s right. So there are different interpretations to this outcome. And some say that it was because Lee Nak-yon campaign team went all out to recruit supporters to take part in the third or vote, seeing that it would be the last chance of for him to face a runoff. And some say that a large number of members from the general public who aren’t necessarily supporters of the ruling party or Lee Jae-myung that they took part in the vote and their sentiment towards a sour due to the Daejang-dong scandal. This of course, this is a scandal corruption scandal surrounding land development project in Seongnam city back in 2015, when Lee Jae-myung was serving as the mayor there, and it’s been dominating the local political circle with the main opposition People Power party labeling it as the Lee Jae-myung scandal and calling for a special prosecutors probe as well as a parliamentary investigation into the case. And it’s also been a major issue with the ongoing parliamentary audit into government agencies and our president Moon Jae-in even has also commented on the scandal ordering a thorough probe into the case. And the scandal is expected to continue affecting Lee Jae-myung standing going forward as well. And others view that all this outcome was due to adverse selection or intervention by conservative voters to elect a weaker candidate to create a favorable outcome for opposition parties. So, while it’s unclear what exactly led to this outcome for the third electoral vote. It definitely ended up bringing down Lee Jae-myung accumulated votes from 55.2% to 50.2% at the very last minute.
Alex Jensen: You mentioned the main opposition People Power party. That’s the conservative camp for anyone who’s not aware and they would definitely have their own motivation to deflect attention away from potential candidate Yoon Seok-youl, but let’s just go a little further into this scandal over voting because there’s been a challenge them for Lee Jae-myung, in fact runner up Lee Nak-yon even filed an appeal to the primary result claiming this unfair vote counting have taken place?
Choi Kyungmi: Right. So, he’s submitted an official objection to the party’s election committee, citing a lack of justification for the primary results. And his team said a runoff vote should be held because the final result didn’t count the votes that went towards Chung Sye-kyun and Kim Doo-kwan, or these are the two candidates who resigned in the middle of the primary and Lee Nak-yon team also argued that this was in violation of the party’s constitution and regulations. So with further claim that Governor Lee would have only won 49.32% of the votes if all those votes were counted, which would have made a runoff necessary as he would have failed to get a majority of the votes. And after the appeal was filed. The Democratic party held a meeting to discuss the move, but it reaffirmed that Lee Jae-myung is the candidate rejecting the appeal and following this announcement Lee Nak-yon conceded defeat on Wednesday and sent a congratulatory message for each Lee Jae-myung’s victory. And he also vowed to strive for the party’s victory in the presidential race and consider what role he could play for the party’s win. So, in response, Lee Jae-myung think Lee Nak-yon for accepting the results, calling him the ruling party’s pride who has made great devotions for the development of the DP and the country. Meanwhile, the DP’s party Affairs Committee has agreed to revise the party rule that sparked the controversy over whether the votes of four dropouts should be counted or not in the future.
Alex Jensen: And we got an even clearer idea of what Lee Jae-myung would offer as president and weigh in his response.
Choi Kyungmi: Right, so in his acceptance speech, Lee Jae-myung vowed to carry out a powerful reform of the real estate policy and also to root out corruption. He pledged to unify the country so that everyone could enjoy fair opportunities, regardless of their political standing in all regions of origin. And he also reaffirmed his willingness to adopt universal basic income, saying that Korea would become the first country to offer such benefit regardless of how wealthy people are. he also mentioned is envisioned basic agenda package which would include a universal basic income plan. And according to this plan, all Korean citizens would receive annual subsidies of at least 250,000 Won from the year 2023. And Koreans aged 19 to 29 with each receive 1,2500,000 Won starting from the same year, and it also includes a basic housing program, which would provide 1 million long-term public rental housing to those without homes, as well as our basic loan scheme, which would offer long term loans with favorable conditions and interest rates. Lee Jae-myung also called next year’s presidential race, the ultimate battle against the corrupt establishment and set that the country will have to start off as a new country of hope. Meanwhile, Lee said earlier that he won’t give up his position as Gyeonggi governor, after announcing his bid in July, raising eyebrows among his critics, and candidates with public office positions generally resigned when they announced their bid to run for race or this is to prevent conflict of interest or use misuse of public funds. But earlier this week, Lee said during an emergency press conference that he will attend the parliamentary audit as the Gyeonggi governor has scheduled and that he plans to bear as much responsibility in his current position. But he is expected to step down in late October at the earliest to focus on his campaigns.
Alex Jensen: Well, switching as well as promised to the main opposition People Power party. It’s now got a shortlist of 4 candidates all compete against each other before the final nomination for them. On November 5th, and this week, we’ve just seen yet more in the way of public debates between the memory (09:02)?
Choi Kyungmi: Right, so the 4 candidates are former Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl, Representative Hong Joon-pyo, former Lawmaker Yoo Seong-min and former Jeju Governor Won Hee-ryong and these four are the candidates that made it through the party’s second elimination round are selected based on results from a national poll among Korean voters and another survey among registered members of the PPP. And the four candidates will go through regional debates and the party will nominate its candidate, its final candidate based on the combined result of a public pool and party members votes. And the minor opposition Justice Party has also chosen its candidate for the presidential race. It’s for term lawmaker Sim Sang-jung who won 51.12% of the vote in a one off against former party leader Lee Jeong-mi and in her acceptance speech, Sim criticized the main rival parties saying that the two biggest parties have failed the people and that they’re only trying to shift blame to each other This will also be Sim’s for the presidential bid.
Alex Jensen: But it really does look like we’re heading back into a two-horse race situation again, there have been efforts in recent years to at least introduce a third way. By the way, I was looking at the latest poll data. And Lee Jae-myung, the presidential candidate of the Democratic Party, who we spoke about just before, is so close in one-on-one races, with the main candidates who are tipped currently for the People Power party. So according to a Gallup Korea survey of just over 1000 adults held from Tuesday to Wednesday of this week, Lee had 43%, when placed against former prosecutor general Yoon Seok-youl and he had 40.4%. And actually Hong Joon-pyo 0.1% point ahead of Lee Jae-myung in their race, it was 40.7 to 40.6. So, I think that gives us a taste of just how close his election could end up being and why the mudslinging will perhaps get even more fierce. But Kyungmi, the business circle here has also made some demands, hasn’t it two political parties regarding this election.
Choi Kyungmi: That’s right, so the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry sent a written proposal to major political parties this week. That said that they are not satisfied by the current conditions of Korea’s reality, and that the future isn’t so bright either. But the political parties should use the 20th presidential election as an opportunity to discuss national development. And they presented reestablishing a foundation for sustainable development of the economy, promoting happiness for members of society, creating solutions and change for national development as the three major propositions. And some of the detailed agenda has included boosting economic advancement, achieving net zero, job creation, security, and social integration. And the group said that it expects to see candidates presenting visions and solutions to turn Korea into a better country over the next five years under the new president, as they compete against each other rather than simply opposing each other over issues from the past and only focusing on domestic issues. it also said that it hopes to see all these candidates holding discussions on the global business environment and sustainable development of the economy that can guarantee happiness for all members of society.
Alex Jensen: Well, thank you very much Kyungmi, Choi, it’s been a pleasure to have you with us on the line today.
Choi Kyungmi: Thank you for having me.
Alex Jensen: We can look forward to regular updates from Kyungmi in the coming weeks and months. If you’ve got any particular questions you want to ask about the election that you’d like to see addressed on the podcast or in fact, if you’ve got any sort of feedback or just want to join our community in some shape or form, drop us an email via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alex Jensen: So, we can continue the conversation now by asking is this the Squid game election and also touch on some of the international concerns around the incredibly successful show that has taken Netflix certainly by storm. Rod Rothwell is KBLA is co-chair and our voice of reason for all things Korea related. Thank you very much, once again for joining us.
Rod Rothwell: So happy to be here, Alex. Can be a great discussion.
Alex Jensen: Yeah, well, we wanted to talk about Squid game, didn’t we? But it seems like the whole world is covered just about every single base and I know our mutual friend Andy Salmon recently wrote an article for the Asia Times on Lee Jae-myung, connecting him to Squid game. So that’s a bit of a good lift off point for us. How much of an effect would you say some of the issues raised by that show will have on the election?
Rod Rothwell: I think there’s is a point to be made and Andrew Salmon’s article is really good. Because once he finishes describing the candidates, which you went through with Kyungmi, he does dig deep into this idea of the Squid game election. And it’s interesting for me because Squid game is about poor people. Yeah, super poor and super rich people. But the interesting thing is it really resonating with a middle class of Korea. And it is and Andy says in the article, the middle class in Korea, really feel that they’re in some kind of, I don’t know, attack or that they’re really feeling very anxious. And so, I thought that Andrew’s article was really good on that. it resonated so well with the middle class.
Alex Jensen: Let’s just touch on some of the big themes there. There’s competition, which I think is absolutely obvious around the world, but we’re very conscious of it here in Korea, and it starts at a young age in the world of education, and you’ve got the poverty aspect across there as different groups like North Korean defector stereotype, the elderly, the migrant worker, the down on your luck, members of society are somewhat forgotten. You’ve got some really surprising and amazing acting performances in there as well, which I think suddenly explain the success. But beyond that there’s a kind of evil capitalism constantly lurking in the background. And actually, I’m not sure whether the show deals with that quite as well, because I don’t feel that it gives us a clear motivation for why the so-called bad guys are as bad as they are, if you like.
Rod Rothwell: Yeah, that’s true. That’s a very good point like, it is, the bad guys in this and it’s very, this is where it’s different from Parasite. Because the rich people in Squid game are really seen as evil, deviant people who just want to suppress and control everybody else. And that’s different from Parasite, where Parasite it was just a really rich family doing what they believe people did, you know, and they were completely unaware of their actions impact on the rest of society. And so that’s an interesting way to separate them. I think. The bad guys, we didn’t get any real understanding of their motivation at all, did we? I hope everybody seen it. I don’t want to give it anything away. But at the end of the last episode, we left this feeling that the reason the bad guys are so bad, is that they simply bored. And that’s really different, isn’t it?
Alex Jensen: Yeah, I just didn’t really buy it. I think there are a lot of motivations people have in the world for being evil. And they could have gone a bit further with that, although maybe season 2 will take us down that road, working backwards with some of the other things I did mention, though, that I’ve done really well. Would you say that those are going to be big topics, particularly that disenfranchised group who have been left kind of adrift, the group that in other countries resulted in, arguably Donald Trump being elected and Brexit happening in Britain?
Rod Rothwell: Yeah, it’s interesting, isn’t it? Because the both parties here are international parties. And both parties here are globalist parties. So, there’s nothing like the you know, the high end of the Republican Party, which is extremely nationalist call the UK (17:50), for an extreme example, in England, that one party is very pro, you know, US alliance. And that’s a focus of their globalism, but even the Democratic Party, they’re still very global. So, it’ll be a bit different there. To your point, though, yeah, it is interesting that all the policies have focused on the middle class that they’d like every single policy we see, is focused on winning the middle class, and there’s nothing for people outside the middle class, there’s no policies to seem to raise the brace people out of poverty, they don’t seem to have any policies to be to bring outsiders in. It’s all about the middle class all the time.
Alex Jensen: In Korea, it’s, I think, a really interesting conversation anyway, to talk about classes, because in my view, you’ve got the ultra-rich elites, you’ve then got the people who actually own property. And then you’ve got a massive group of people who don’t have many assets, who are just struggling along basically, but can still largely afford things that would have looked very luxurious 30 years ago. And then you’ve got this subclass of people who are so poor, that they’re almost invisible. Does that kind of sum up some of the echelons of Korean society before you even go into North Korean defectors? migrant workers and, and other experts?
Rod Rothwell: Yeah, I think it does. I think it does extremely well, um, I used to teach at the government university. And it was so clear the stratification there. And it was obviously along gender lines. But even beyond that, the deans, and the full tenured professors, they all had the same background. And then the sort of up-and-coming stars, they have a similar background and then he had this large group of part time instructors, who all had a very middle-class background. And then you had the staff who had a slightly lower background. And then you had the maintenance people from that background who were completely unseen and utterly invisible. And so, it’s really clear when you look at a larger organization that people come from, where they come from.
Alex Jensen: And this show Squid gaming, obviously has a global appeal. There are many, many people who identify with this idea that we are under the control of something might just be money itself, it might be the people who hold the purse strings, and they are intrigued by this idea of having to get ahead and other people being the cost of that. Getting Ahead competition. Would you say that? That is fundamentally the reason why squid game has done so well? Or is it something completely different? Perhaps that Korea is just so cool right now that any show with an exciting premise is going to be?
Rod Rothwell: Well, you know, you and I had a quick conversation a couple of days ago, where, you know, I suggested to use that the three most popular pieces of Korean culture globally, are all extremely subversive, you know, Gangnam Style, Parasite and Squid game and all throwing an Oldboy in there as well. They’re for peace (21:26) extremely successful athletes versive and are outside the mold of what we consider normal kind of squeaky kicks, squeaky clean, almost saccharin sweet Korean cultural product.
Alex Jensen: And it’s a different conversation, is it, when you try to explain why is something that’s Korean popular outside Korea and why is it popular at home? There is often an overlap, but I suspect for different reasons, don’t you?
Rod Rothwell: Yeah, I do. I do. I think the is a Squid game, just this amazing Lollapalooza effect of being extremely well made at the right time. with everybody sitting at home. It would also came out during Korean Chuseok so everybody was at home anyway. Did it just benefit from all these different impacts? Or is it something special? I don’t know. It’s really interesting that isn’t it?
Alex Jensen: Well, I must say I enjoyed it a lot more than Parasite. But as I said, I felt like it was much stronger in its first six to seven episodes, and it was in its tail end. Now, I hope they somehow make up for that in season 2. But again, we don’t want to go too far into the whole like drama review category, especially not wanting to give spoilers away. But to come full circle into the reasons why people here at home might have loved it. And whether that would have a real impact on everyday life, the election will be the Tesla that won’t it because for example, Lee Jae-myung offering universal basic income, we might view that as a kind of symbolic piggy bank sitting there above us something to choose.
Rod Rothwell: It is interesting, the amount of monies is quite small. It’s only 300,000 Won a month that he trialed in Gyeonggi-do, but still 300,000 Won a month would maybe lift enough people out of poverty. Because you and I know there’s a big difference between $700 a month in Korea and a million months, you know, once you get to a million a month, you’re, you know, you can almost survive. So, you’ll be very, very interesting whether people just see that money, especially those people we’ve talked about the forgotten people, the invisible people in Korea, has Lee Jae-myung committed to it as a national policy as well?
Alex Jensen: Well, this is part of the conversation, I think, between the early promises and what is actually going to happen if he wins. And it’s still a big question, even though he’s been chosen by his own party. That was a big step for him. But he has talked about Kyungmi mentioned before basic housing program, which would provide a million long term public rental housing options to those who don’t own their homes. That’s got to be a step in the right direction that also be though Koreans aged 19 to 29, receiving 1,250,000 Won starting from 2023. The basic agenda package includes a universal basic income, I’m just reading what Kyungmi told us before that all Korean citizens would receive annual subsidies of at least 250,000 Won. If that’s annual, it’s really gonna be a small splash even compared to what you said before, but it gets a little bit better for the younger age groups. The irony is though, because we’re talking about Squid game that that would not be competitive at all. you’re frustrated that the people who are doing all right are receiving it, not just those who are poor? Because I would personally rather see it concentrated on those who really need it and see the figure go up a bit, then people who are just gonna use it, like I perhaps would for a bit of extra beer.
Rod Rothwell: Exactly, exactly. Like, if it’s all about generating an extra bit of consumer spending, then that’s, that’s fine. In that case, you should definitely be giving it to the lower and lower middle class, because when you give extra money to rich people, they save it, when you give extra money to less rich people, they spend it. And that’s, that’s got some that’s just got economic history behind it. Alex, you know, we haven’t talked about this. But there’s one thing that I would like to say about this whole discussion about apartment prices. The Bank of Korea has made the first steps of tightening monetary policy and I think it’s going to that might have a large impact on the upcoming election as well. If the monetary policy continues to tighten between now and the election, then these mortgages that all these Korean are carrying that are based on the fact that they’re 0.75. That’s going to really tighten family budgets and really limit spending power.
Alex Jensen: Yeah, I think that’s an excellent point. Everything that happens, actually, between now and the election is going to have an impact. We have also I know, both of us been reflecting on this hope that many people have for things returning to normality in November and if that happens, and people feel a big lift from it, that might to a certain extent, mitigate concerns from the negative things that happen but on the other hand, if we go back to relatively normality in November, and everything goes horribly wrong in December or January, then whatever else is going on, that could also drag down the ruling party and Lee Jae-myung is gonna have to do a super PR job of separating himself to a certain extent from Moon Jae-in and that scenario, but again, conversely, if things go really well, he’s gonna want to stand side by side holding hands with Moon Jae-in and so, where does he get the balance? I mean, it’s it this is again, why we’re within the margin of error for the election results if you compare Lee Jae-myung with the main conservative candidates right now?
Rod Rothwell: Yeah, it is. It’s going to be one of the most interesting elections in a long, long time. I don’t think it’s been this close. I don’t think I can’t remember an election disclosed since maybe Kim Dae-jung his election, but
Alex Jensen: You Know, before my time in Korea?
Rod Rothwell: Well, that was actually an election between two elderly chaps as well. So, it was it’s a little bit similar. That’ll be very interesting.
Alex Jensen: Lee Jae-myung, in my mind is still this young guy disrupting things. You know, like he’s been around for a few years making these bold promises.
Rod Rothwell: And he’s been making these bold promises in the most important part of Korea. So that’s, you know, it’s not like he’s been on the fringes standing on a soapbox. He’s been running the engine of Korea now what? Since 2010?
Alex Jensen: He’s 56 years old, by the way, which I mean, he’s not a spring chicken. But in politicians terms. He is pretty useful, especially if you compare with the recent US presidents for argument’s sake. Yoon Seok-youl by comparison is 60 years old as a strong contender on the conservative side. And Hong Joon-pyo 67 years old.
Rod Rothwell: 67. Okay. Right.
Alex Jensen: And the Google result gives us nicknames for him Hong Trump and Korean Ju Dantae.
Rod Rothwell: Korean Ju Dantae, that seems a little harsh.
Alex Jensen: Yeah, look, we’ve been able to enjoy a few tangents here, Rod, but I think we’re just about extending our time beyond its limits. I think what we’ve done though, here with today’s episode with Kyungmi discussion as well, is give people the opportunity to engage in conversations because even in the business community when these issues are or aren’t directly related to someone’s business, it’s great, isn’t it? to be able to engage in the local drama of an election even when you can’t vote yourself, for example?
Rod Rothwell: 100%, 100%. Yeah.
Alex Jensen: So, Rod Rothwell, co-chair of the KBLA and a force behind Koreabizcast, a thought leader for Korean society going forward as I’m positioning you, thank you very much. Have a great weekend.
Rod Rothwell: You too, take care.
Alex Jensen: Well, thank you again to Rod and also Kyungmi, Choi for being on Koreabizcast with the KBLA today this Friday edition. Let me say to everyone else as well have a great weekend as ever see you again Monday from 7am, Korea time.