A tale of two Koreas
I suppose we’re part of the problem.
South Koreans - living in a peaceful, democratic society, the world's 15th largest economy, home to global success stories like Samsung and Hyundai - often wonder why the rest of the world is so obsessed by their northern neighbours, at their expense.
Wednesday April 11, was a case in point. A general election – the closest in years, full of scandal, personal rivalries, and not least big philosophical differences - has been largely overlooked by the world’s media. Us. Me.
Of course the reason is North Korea’s unerring ability to surprise, provoke and infuriate. Most recently with its announcement that it would launch a satellite – saying its sovereign right to a space programme trumped UN resolutions banning it from rocket launches.
A little while after the polls opened here in Seoul, North Korea said it had started fuelling its Unha-3 rocket. Many are expecting the launch to happen soon – Thursday is the first day of a five-day window timed to coincide with the hundredth anniversary of the birth of North Korea’s founding father, Kim Il Sung.
However on Wednesday, there was another surprise.
The fourth conference of the Workers Party of Korea – for many North Korea experts the stage for Kim Jong Un to attain the position of party General Secretary – instead bestowed that title on his father, Kim Jong Il, for all eternity. Kim Jong Un would assume the newly created post of First Secretary.
Contrast that with the goings-on here south of the border: voters going to the polls from six in the morning to six in the evening; casting ballots into boxes that scan and count them as they go; instant exit polls, confirming what we'd all thought – a neck and neck race, with no outright winner.
But if the rest of the world has largely overlooked their election, South Korean voters have largely overlooked North Korea. They've got used to living with the nagging threat of conflict, and it comes well down the list of priorities when deciding how to vote.
This election has been mainly about the economy, and about scandal.
The Democratic United Party has tried to capitalise on a sense of disenchantment felt by many left out of recent economic growth. Especially young graduates with no decent job to show for years of arduous, expensive education. The DUP had constantly called on them to vote in judgement of the administration of president Lee Myung Bak.
But his ruling Saenuri, or New Frontier, Party has hotfooted it away from an unpopular president. Now led by his rival Park Guen-hye, it's moved leftward while issuing dire warnings of the social divisiveness of its opponents.
When hit with revelations that the government had spied on private citizens, the party called for an investigation into the administration's actions, and said the previous liberal government had done the same.
Then a leading DUP candidate – a celebrity satirical podcaster – was found to have made a series of indefensibly misogynistic and aggressive comments eight years ago. He apologised but refused to stand down. His party was trammelled for not kicking him out.
The upshot looks to have been a narrow upset victory for Saenuri. A couple of months ago, it'd looked electorally dead. A fascinating turnaround, and worthy of some examination.
But not by me. North Korea's about to launch a rocket, after all.