Insults, lawsuits and jail threats muddy South Korea’s ‘Squid Game’ presidential election

The race between South Korea’s two main presidential candidates has seen unprecedented ranges of poisonous rhetoric, mudslinging and lawsuits.

How unhealthy is it?

“Hitler,” “beast,” and “parasite” are among the choicer insults leveled by each camps. Some are even calling it “The Squid Sport Election,” in reference to Netflix’s megahit survival drama the place individuals are killed in the event that they lose kids’s video games.

And the stakes? There’s widespread hypothesis that the loser shall be arrested.

“It is a dreadful presidential election when the dropping contender faces jail. Please survive this dogfight within the mire!” senior opposition politician Hong Joon-pyo wrote on Fb.

An individual appears at posters of South Korea’s presidential candidates in Seoul on Sunday. (Jung Yeon-je/AFP/Getty Pictures)

Simply days earlier than Wednesday’s election, Lee Jae-myung from the liberal governing Democratic Occasion and Yoon Suk-yeol from the primary conservative opposition Individuals Energy Occasion are locked in a particularly tight race.

Their damaging campaigns are aggravating South Korea’s already extreme political divide at a time when it faces a battered, pandemic-hit financial system, a balancing act over competitors between its essential ally, Washington, and its prime commerce companion, China, and a raft of threats and weapons checks from rival North Korea.

‘Mutual hatred’

Opinion surveys present that each candidates have extra critics than supporters.

“Is not our nationwide future too bleak with an disagreeable and bitter presidential election that calls for selecting the lesser of two evils?” the mass-circulation Dong-A Ilbo newspaper mentioned in an editorial.

Yoon has slammed Lee over his doable ties to an allegedly corrupt land improvement scandal. Lee has denied any connection, and in flip has tried to hyperlink Yoon to the identical scandal, whereas individually criticizing him for his reported ties to shamanism — an historic, indigenous spiritual perception.

Lee Jae-myung, the presidential election candidate of the ruling Democratic Occasion, gestures throughout a marketing campaign occasion in Seoul on Thursday. (Lee Jin-man/The Related Press)

There have additionally been assaults on the candidates’ wives, each of whom have been compelled to apologize over separate scandals.

Yoon described Lee’s get together as “Hitler” and “Mussolini” whereas an affiliate known as Lee’s purported aides “parasites.” Lee’s allies known as Yoon “a beast,” “dictator” and “an empty can” and derided his spouse’s alleged cosmetic surgery.

Their marketing campaign groups and supporters have filed dozens of lawsuits charging libel and the unfold of false data, amongst different points.

“This 12 months’s presidential election has been extra overwhelmed by damaging campaigning than another earlier election, and the mutual hatred will not simply die down after the election,” mentioned Choi Jin, director of the Seoul-based Institute of Presidential Management.

U.S., North Korea points

Among the many fault traces within the voters are South Korean regional rivalries, views on North Korea, a battle between generations, financial inequality and girls’s rights points.

Yoon is extra well-liked with older voters and people within the southeastern area of Gyeongsang, the place previous conservative and authoritarian leaders got here from. His supporters usually advocate a stronger army alliance with the U.S. and a harder line on Pyongyang, and so they credit score previous authoritarian rulers for shortly growing the financial system after the Korean Battle.

Yoon Suk-yeol, the presidential election candidate of the opposition Individuals Energy Occasion, gestures at a marketing campaign occasion in Seoul on Tuesday. (Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters)

Lee enjoys better help from youthful folks and people from Jeolla province, Gyeongsang’s rival area within the southwest. His supporters typically need an equal footing in relations with the U.S. and rapprochement with North Korea whereas being extraordinarily vital of previous authoritarian rulers’ human rights data.

In a notable improvement, many surveys confirmed Yoon has gotten better approval scores than Lee from voters aged 18 and 29, most of whom have been born after South Korea grew to become a developed nation.

“They did not expertise poverty and dictatorships. … They’re very vital of China and North Korea, and so they have quite pleasant emotions towards the U.S. and Japan,” mentioned Park Sung-min, head of Seoul-based MIN Consulting, a political consulting agency.

Scandal-hit presidents

South Korea’s deep divisions are mirrored within the troubles of the final three leaders. Their supporters say intense corruption investigations after they left workplace have been politically motived by their rivals.

Amid a corruption probe of his household, former liberal President Roh Moo-hyun jumped to his dying in 2009, a 12 months after he left workplace. His successor, the conservative Lee Myung-bak, and Lee’s conservative successor, Park Geun-hye, have been individually convicted of a spread of crimes, together with corruption, and given prolonged jail phrases after Roh’s pal and present President Moon Jae-in took workplace in 2017.

Park was pardoned in December, however Lee continues to be serving a 17-year jail time period.

Moon’s authorities took a giant hit with a scandal involving Moon’s former justice minister and shut affiliate, Cho Kuk. Cho and his members of the family are alleged to have participated in monetary crimes and the faking of credentials to assist Cho’s daughter enter medical faculty.

Voters forged early ballots at a polling station in Seoul on Saturday. (Ahn Younger-joon/The Related Press)

Cho was seen as a reformist and potential liberal presidential hopeful. Moon’s early makes an attempt to maintain Cho in workplace break up the general public, along with his critics calling for Cho’s resignation and supporters rallying to his aspect throughout huge avenue protests.

Yoon initially served as Moon’s prosecutor normal and spearheaded investigations of earlier conservative governments. However he ultimately left Moon’s authorities and joined the opposition final 12 months after battle with Moon’s allies over the Cho case helped him emerge as a possible presidential contender.

“Cho’s case was a watershed in South Korean politics. It made Yoon a presidential candidate, and lots of of their 20s and 30s switched their help from Moon,” Choi, the institute director, mentioned.


Throughout a current TV debate, Yoon and Lee agreed to not launch politically motivated investigations in opposition to the opposite aspect in the event that they win. However some query their sincerity.

In a newspaper interview final month, Yoon mentioned that if elected, his authorities would examine doable wrongdoing by the Moon authorities and likewise the land improvement scandal that Lee has been allegedly linked to.

A TV display at a railway station reveals Lee and Yoon throughout a presidential debate on Feb. 21. (Ahn Younger-joon/The Related Press)

When Moon’s authorities was conducting widespread investigations of previous conservative governments, Lee mentioned they have been essential to eradicate “deep-rooted evils and injustice.”

Cho Jinman, a professor at Seoul’s Duksung Girls’s College, mentioned a brand new president should train restraint and calm requires political revenge by hard-line supporters.

“We now have an election race like Squid Sport, however it is going to be a brand new president’s duty to tug us out of it,” he mentioned.

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