Presidential Election Day in Korea is such an important day that, in fact, it's a national holiday. Posters and banners of the many battling President wannabes have been smiling down on citizens for several weeks now. The most involvement I've had in the election process was analyzing the posters and banners for the man with the nicest smile and body language.
All the candidates have a number assigned to them, 1 through 12. Yes, there were twelve candidates this year. Grand National Party candidate Lee Myung Bak, who I adoringly referred to as #2, raised a power fist in his banner that looked over several of Seoul's intersections and city streets. His fist told me he was confident, but not cocky; powerful, but not controlling. His smile told me he cared. I liked him. I learned he was a former CEO of Hyundai and also a mayor of Seoul, elected in 2002. During his reign as mayor, he was the leading force behind the reconstruction of Cheonggye Stream in downtown Seoul, and he also revitalized Seoul's transportation system. Now I like him even more.
Chung Dong Young was candidate #1 but favourite #2. He was a news anchor at MBC prior to his attempts at President with the United New Democratic Party. In third place was candidate #12, Lee Hoi Chang. This candidate was previously with the Grand National Party and ran twice for President, and in his third attempt he decided to run as an independent.
According to Ms Heo, my friend from work, candidate #3, Kwon Young Ghil, was "scary" because his socialist views reminded her too much of the communist values of neighbouring North Korea. She also said that #8, Heo Kyung Young, was "crazy" because he said that his IQ was 430, and I have to say that I would agree with her! She had positive things to say about #6, Moon Gook Hyun, but she thought he was too unknown to most Koreans for him to be elected now. "Maybe another year," she said. As for the other candidates, "They are not important," she said when I quizzed her.
Unfortunately, Lee Myung Bak, the frontrunner throughout the race, is now under investigation in a fraud scandal. The allegations were dismissed earlier, but the case was reopened, just days before the election, after an old video surfaced that may prove he has some involvement afterall. Apparently, a brawl broke out in parliament because of the reopened investigation.
But, the threat of a fraud investigation didn't in any way damage Lee's huge lead over any of the other candidates. He won by a landslide, taking almost half the votes himself, and will take office on 25 February 2008.