A wind is blowing through South Korea’s electoral politics, and this time it’s not coming from the north. In what is actually something of an unexpected turn of events for me, it seems that Roh Moo-hyun’s decision to keep a contingent of Korean troops twiddling their thumbs in northern Iraq (or Kurdistan if you prefer) for another year (something he apparently promised Bush around the time of their well-publicised tiff at the ASEAN meeting) is set to have a major effect on the upcoming presidential elections. According to Hankyoreh, the UNDP - the rather shaky looking phoenix that has risen from the ashes of the old Uri Party - has come out against the extension of the troop deployment, meaning that it could be defeated in a parliamentary vote as long as they can grab a few allies. Even more interestingly, both the presidential candidate for the liberal camp, Chung Dong-young and the conservative Grand National Party are so far not saying whether they are for or against the extension. This reflects the basic fact that 80% of the population are against keeping the troops in Iraq and Roh himself had earlier promised that they would be brought home by the end of this year.
So there is now the strange situation where what is effectively the ‘ruling party’ is trying to steal a bit of popular leftwing ground (that would otherwise be left to the Democratic Labour Party alone) while the ruling party’s presidential candidate is reluctant to follow suit, perhaps because he wants to hedge his bets for a bit longer. The prospect that the election could become partially a referendum on Roh’s slavish obedience to Bush over the Iraq war (albeit justified in terms of ‘national interest’) is certainly a promising one, although how it would play for the real left (the DLP) as opposed to the opportunists of the UNDP is unclear. Opposition to troop deployment is one of the DLP’s two main planks, along with opposition to neoliberalism, so another nominally antiwar candidate could perhaps undercut their support.