Asked about their preferences for the next president, 30 percent said they support former Prime Minister Goh Kun, while 16 percent backed Grand National Party chairwoman Park Geun-hye. Seoul Mayor Lee Myung-Bak and Unification Minister Chung Dong-young were third and fourth on the list with 15 percent and 10 percent, respectively. (emphasis mine)
The Grand National Party’s top two contenders for the presidency both owe much to the legacy of Park Chung-Hee. If Ms. Park is the old dictator’s progeny in the biological sense, Lee Myung Bak is much more his progeny ideologically.
General Park transformed Korea through large-scale state-controlled projects that reflected his socialist roots, which were themselves influenced by concepts of state-managed development Park learned during the Japanese occupation. Park came of age in a fascist system–fascism itself being an offshoot of communism–in which the state served as an omnipotent economic and social engineer, with corporations serving as junior partners.
Park applied these practices to Korea’s post-war development, and Lee Myung-Bak had a close, if troubled, relationship with Park’s world view, and his own experience mirrors his country’s during that era. Park came from a poor family and put himself through Korea University by doing odd jobs that included collecting garbage. After spending six months in prison for protesting against Park Chung-Hee’s authoritarianism, in 1965 he graduated and turned his energy into the corporate world, rising to the top of Hyundai Construction & Engineering, perhaps the crown jewel of South Korea’s chaebol, at the age of 36.
Lee’s political philosophy could best be described as a faith in the power of heavy equipment. Some would say this is also where he acquired his diplomatic and consensus-building skills. It is not for nothing that he is known as “the bulldozer,” a name Lee reportedly dislikes. With a strong focus on economic issues and an innate social conservatism, Lee’s political base will consist mainly of voters over 40.
Mayor of Seoul
During his tenure as mayor of Seoul, Lee certainly changed the face of the city, though not always for the better and presumably at great cost to taxpayers.
His restoration of the Cheonggyecheon Stream downtown certainly beautified the city in a sense (before and after pics here, HT: antti), but did no good for its hellish traffic, and came at the terrible, mostly-forgotten cost of destroying–or so my friends report–the Pimat-Gil, the crowded, narrow alleys along the Chong-ro where you could buy grilled mackerel and soju shots on freezing January nights . . . it was one of the most uniquely “Korean” places in Seoul and I will never forgive Lee for destroying it. Others claimedthat the plan damaged historical artifacts in the construction area. The price was a whopping $370 billion won, about $350 million. All of this created plenty of traffic disruption; Lee tried to improve these with a new system of bus lanes that failed so miserably he had to make a public apology.
When Lee joked with reporters that he might call out the military to prevent a move, the Uri party pounced on his statement and tried to link him with the authoritarian politicians he fought against as a student.
“The mayor acts as if he is a person of the 21st century, but the remark shows how deeply he was devoted to anti-democracy and anti-parliamentarian elements of a dictatorial period,” Uri spokeswoman Kim Hyun-mee said.
Lee can give as good as he gets:
He calls President Roh Moo Hyun’s government “amateurs who don’t have the capacity and experience needed to run a country.”
. . . .
Lee has condemned what he calls Roh’s “politically motivated scheme” to “split the capital and win votes” outside Seoul for his party.
Lee’s record on international issues is harder to assess, because it doesn’t appear that he either cares or speaks about them very much unless they are directly related to economic issues.Lee’s plans for bringing foreign investment into Seoul have in fact won international recognition.His love of public works projects (and perhaps his naked ambition to appeal to younger voters) showed when he proposed turning the U.S. Army’s Yongsan Garrison into a (roll eyes now) frigging peace park after the U.S. hands it over to the Korean government.
One might expect someone with long ties to the Hyundai Group to be more supportive of using trade and engagement to gradually transform the North.Lee doesn’t appear to believe in the viability of that approach, even if the self-serving context is suspect:
“The reunification of Korea is not so far away,” he said through an interpreter. “If you take into account that fact it would be rather absurd to relocate the capital south of Seoul both of in terms of politics and diplomacy.”
South Korean officials tend to say unification is not around the corner — not least because the cost of reuniting the two halves of a peninsula divided for 50 years would be huge. But Lee pointed to the November 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall and Germany’s costly and hasty unification less than a year later.
“The reunification of Germany took place unexpectedly and in very difficult circumstances,” said Lee. “That might be the case for Korea in the future. But still, as for now it would not be appropriate to get into details.”
What I can’t find is so much as one solitary utterance about human rights in the North.
No ambitious Korean politician could pass up the opportunity to bait the Japanese, and Tokyo’s racist loudmouth Governor Shintaro Ishihara recently proved himself an ideal sparring partner. But watch Lee’s appeal to red-meat nationalism squirm uneasily around his fear of upsetting the investors:
Seoul City mayor Lee Myung-bak on Tuesday gave his Tokyo counterpart Shintaro Ishihara quid pro quo for labeling President Roh Moo-hyun’s criticism of Japan “third-rate politics. “If our politics are third rate, then Ishihara’s must be fourth and fifth rate. . . .Anybody can criticize our politics, except Japan’s extreme right.
“Japan needs to apologize for the mistakes of its past and contribute to mutual prosperity in Asia and human happiness. The mayor said rudeness aimed at a national leader “can threaten bilateral ties,” adding, “I call on Ishihara to reflect on his rash comments that break with international custom.
At a press conference later, Lee said he spoke out of concern for the national interest rather than to lend the president political support. “The economic and cultural cooperation between Seoul and Tokyo should not suffer, but if Japan continues to behave like this, it may have an influence,” Lee added.
Socially, Lee is about as paleocon as they come, even for conservative, Confucio-evangelical Korea. Here is what I (and plenty of others) consider his oddest moment:
As a devoted Presbyterian senior, he recently attended a religious meeting in Seoul and publicly said he was offering the city of Seoul to Almighty God in his capacity as Seoul mayor.
Such a message drew widespread and vehement criticism from members of non-Christian community across the country as well as Seoul citizens and civic groups.
Political observers said that such a comment was highly calculated and aimed at the forthcoming presidential elections. The Christian community in Korea exercises tremendous influence on local politics.
This crosses the line between governing according to religious-based principles that shape our public morality and rank sectarianism–hardly a temperate comment in a nation that remains 40% Buddhist, Confucianist, and “miscellaneus. More recently, Lee appointed himself guardian of the pubic morals by promising to send the cops to shut down “sexy dance contests,” thus threatening to make war against one of the universe’s last dwindling business models for completely harmless fun.
Lee Myung-Bak’s ethical reputation is checkered, although some of the charges mirror the impeachment charge against Roh Moo Hyun in their hypertechnical pettiness. He was charged but acquitted of election law violations in 2003 for engaging in partisan campaigning before the official start of the election season. Similar charges had been levied against him in the past. More damaging are charges that he has used public funds to promote his own political goals. Lee has been accused of using taxpayer funds to buy up thousands of copies of “World Village,” a product from the publishers of “The Monthly Chosun,” in consideration for the latter’s favorable press coverage. He was accused of using taxpayer funds to bring sympathetic journalists along on a junket to Europe, an accusation that briefly resulted in Mayor Lee being barred from his city’s own press room. He was also said to have used public funds to support a political rally against moving the capital out of Seoul.