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Both main candidates for the South Korean presidency are reviled

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ALL OF SOUTH KOREA’S previous presidents have been tainted by corruption investigations. Both of the surviving ones have served time in jail for corruption. Park Geun-hye was pardoned solely final month, for well being causes; Lee Myung-bak stays in his cell. Even Moon Jae-in, the present president, who prides himself on his probity, has seen an in depth ally imprisoned for violating electoral regulation and has misplaced a justice minister to an influence-peddling investigation (the case is ongoing).

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Politicians often handle to get elected earlier than changing into mired in scandals. That precedent could also be overturned by the candidates vying for the presidency in an election slated for March ninth. (Mr Moon can not run once more, as South Korean presidents are restricted to a single five-year time period.) Both Lee Jae-myung of the ruling Minjoo Celebration and Yoon Seok-youl of the conservative opposition Folks Energy Celebration (PPP) have been accused of significant wrongdoing since the marketing campaign started. The pair deny any misdeeds. But every camp has tried to seek out benefit in the different’s adversity. With simply six weeks to go, the marketing campaign has been heavy on mudslinging and lightweight on critical debate.

Mr Lee’s largest potential headache is an investigation into allegedly corrupt land offers in Seongnam, a middle-class suburb of Seoul, whereas he was its mayor. He denies any involvement and has survived a parliamentary audit into the matter. To this point the opposition’s calls for an unbiased probe into the scandal and his position in it have gone unheeded. Two officers who have been indicted on corruption expenses in the case dedicated suicide in December. That reduces the possibilities that the full story will ever come to gentle.

Even so, the furore displays poorly on Mr Lee, whose job it was to supervise the native improvement company at the centre of the case. He stresses his working-class origins and punctiliously cultivates an approachable picture. The opposition portrays him as a gangster, enjoying up alleged hyperlinks to organised crime and berating him for defending males who had killed their companions when he was a lawyer.

Banging on about Mr Lee’s shortcomings is an effective technique to distract voters from Mr Yoon’s. The PPP’s candidate—a former chief prosecutor who resigned final yr after tangling with Mr Moon’s justice minister—has proved himself a unfastened cannon since getting into politics final summer season. His marketing campaign has been marred by infighting. He misplaced his marketing campaign supervisor and was embroiled in a weeks-long spat with Lee Jun-seok, his celebration’s chairman, over appointments and the marketing campaign’s path. The 2 males reached an uneasy truce earlier this month.

In the meantime, prosecutors are investigating claims that, as chief prosecutor, Mr Yoon abetted an underling who allegedly helped the PPP file felony complaints in opposition to Minjoo celebration lawmakers in the run-up to elections in 2020 (he denies the allegations). Mr Yoon’s quite a few gaffes embody claims that “poor or uneducated” individuals don’t really feel the want for freedom and that these preventing in opposition to South Korea’s army dictatorship in the 1980s didn’t actually care about democracy.

Mr Yoon’s household is a further legal responsibility. His mother-in-law has obtained a three-year jail sentence for medical fraud. His spouse, Kim Keon-hee, has admitted that she solid most of her CV when making use of for jobs as an artwork curator. That is significantly awkward provided that Mr Yoon oversaw the investigation that led to the jailing of the spouse of Cho Kuk, Mr Moon’s disgraced justice minister, for forging paperwork to assist her daughter’s college utility. Ms Kim additionally precipitated outrage amongst younger ladies particularly after claiming that South Korean left-wingers had skilled extra #MeToo circumstances than conservatives as a result of conservatives “be certain they pay” the victims.

With the candidates’ campaigns centered on each other, their modest coverage plans have light into the background. Mr Lee made his identify by advocating a common primary earnings, however his most memorable present coverage is a promise to incorporate hair-loss therapy in medical health insurance. A video of Mr Lee claiming he was “the finest candidate for your hair” in the model of a hair-product advert went viral earlier this month. In the meantime, the closest Mr Yoon has come to a coverage announcement in current weeks was a comment in favour of a possible first strike in opposition to North Korea. Neither candidate has proposed compelling plans to dispel voters’ considerations about the pandemic and spiralling housing prices (The common value of a flat in Seoul has risen by practically 50% since Mr Moon took workplace in 2017).

None of this has been misplaced on the voters. Mr Yoon led polls for two months, most likely due to his political novelty. Since December, nevertheless, neither candidate has managed to take a decisive lead. Both proceed to be outshone by Mr Moon, whose approval ranking stays above 40% in all polls, a share that neither of the two males who hope to succeed him has managed to maintain for any size of time. A majority of voters say they need to see a brand new celebration in energy, however that’s hardly out of enthusiasm for Mr Yoon. In a single current ballot by Realmeter, a pollster on the proper, conservatives stated they would favor an alliance between the PPP and the small Folks Celebration, with Ahn Cheol-soo, a colourless conservative, as president.

This means that Mr Yoon could have a tough time convincing even his personal camp to vote for him, not to mention sway moderates. Messrs Lee and Yoon nonetheless have a bit of time to get critical. But when they don’t, whoever manages to fill the headlines with the different facet’s scandals simply earlier than election day most likely has the finest likelihood of success.

This text appeared in the Asia part of the print version beneath the headline “Mud on mud”

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