A questionable election in South Korea

By Kathy Kang
Camarillo, Calif.

“Democracy is dead,” said Xi Young Yun, a 25-year-old college student representing University Student Protectors of Democracy during a press conference last month. “We can’t believe that we are experiencing events similar to those that happened under military dictatorship in the 70s, in 2013.”

On a rainy night late last month, more than 25,000 people gathered in Seoul City Hall Square to protest alleged corruption in South Korea’s presidential election. The election was held in December, yet many Koreans are continuing to protest. In the race, conservative candidate Geun-Hye Park—daughter of infamous former dictator Jung-Hee Park—defeated left-wing human rights lawyer Jae-In Moon, with 52 percent of the vote. During and after the campaign, Moon’s party, Minju, alleged that the election had been corrupt. Specifically, it raised the question of whether Korea’s National Intelligence Service engaged in propaganda on behalf of the right-wing candidate. (NIS agents were accused of leaving opinionated comments denigrating Moon on websites; the agency denies that this happened.)

Despite the fact that thousands of people have gathered for candle-light vigils to protest, the issue has received little attention in the mainstream South Korean press. That could be because many South Korean news organizations are close to the government.

Unfortunately, the issue has also been mostly ignored by the international media. The New York Times has reported on the controversy, but overall, there has been far too little coverage in the United States. As a result, many Americans do not know about the allegations.

The NIS’ alleged propaganda during the campaign is not the only fraud people suspect: Through Twitter, Facebook and other social networks, people commented about alleged fraud during the voting itself.

“As democracy has spread, so has the role of elections as the means to establish legitimate government,” the United Nations website states, adding that “the electoral process should adhere to obligations and commitments outlined in international human rights instruments.”

We all have a responsibility to draw attention to situations where this isn’t happening. When your neighbor’s house is on fire, it is your responsibility to help those in need—which is why the United States, the leader of the democratic world, must put pressure on the South Korean government to thoroughly address these allegations of electoral fraud.

True, Washington is a close ally of South Korea; it views the country as a key partner in security and technology. Yet the Obama administration must give serious attention not just to the Korean government, but to the voices of those South Koreans who believe the last election was corrupt. By speaking out forcefully on this issue, the U.S. government would be helping the description of South Korea on Wikipedia to become closer to the truth: “Although South Korea experienced a series of military dictatorships from the 1960s up until the 1980s, it has since developed into a successful liberal democracy.”

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