The Race for the Blue House

Despite all that’s been written about it so far, Korea’s presidential election really only just began. Shit got real once Ahn Cheol-soo, the independent left-leaning billionaire software mogul, dropped out of the race in late November. One week later, the official candidates (significantly, leftist Moon Jae-in and right-winger Park Geun-hye) registered to duke it out on December 19.

And so it began. For the next two weeks we, the people, will be subjected to ‘heartfelt’ political ads (scroll down), drive-by televised speeches and the constant battle cry of the ajumma, proudly row-dancing and clutching banners on the street.

MoonPark

Expect the usual Korean political fare and streets louder than usual. Park’s rejected Moon’s request for a live televised debate, which is actually pretty weird, on the grounds that her nationwide tour is too tight. (How else can Moon show off his lofty elitist intellectualism? How else can Park look like an aristocratic old-fashioned hag?)

Read the full thing on Busan Haps, for which I am now effectively a Korean political reporter.

Korean Bus Drivers Set to Strike

IF YOU’VE EVER had the thought, “Korean taxis are so cheap; why bother taking the bus?” then you might’ve been onto something. And that something has led to a bus strike on Thursday, November 22 and possibly not ending for a while.

A total of 48,000 buses will stop tomorrow, 2,511 of which run through Busan’s 132 daily routes. Seoul will be hit a bit harder, with some 7,500 buses running over 360 routes carrying approximately five million passengers.

“There has not been a single public hearing on this issue, though we’ve expressed our position to the parliament and parties. This is nothing but an impromptu populist measure ahead of the presidential election.

The reason behind the strike is a parliamentary bill, which puts Korea on the road to acknowledging taxis as public transportation. Already, a bill has been passed by a parliamentary committee (read: not everyone in parliament agreed yet) that would enable cabs to legally use bus lanes and get some cash compensation from the government. There’s a vote on Friday with the full parliament to see if the rest of the gang agrees.

When Korea’s 17 bus unions got wind of this, they flashed a red light of their own.

“There has not been a single public hearing on this issue, though we’ve expressed our position to the parliament and parties. This is nothing but an impromptu populist measure ahead of the presidential election,” a bus association official told Yonhap News.

“If the bill passes a floor vote on Friday, we will go on an indefinite strike.”

In an appropriate city response, expect to see way more taxis (and, consequently, way more traffic jams, car horns and impolite lane changes) as well as extended subway hours for Thursday.

Behold the full relevant article on Busan Haps! Timely and informative… almost as if it’s what the media’s there for.

We got yer back, public.

Presidential Primer: Park Geun-hye

Park Geun-hye’s candidacy has both an uphill battle and an unfair advantage. Her advantage is over both Moon Jae-in, the candidate of official the opposition Democratic United Party, and Ahn Cheol-soo, the super-rich software titan. The advantage is the speculation that her two rivals will split the left-wing vote unless one backs down or agree to some form of power sharing in a president/prime minister system. Park, by contrast, has more or less unanimous right-wing support.

It’s tempting for left-leaners to assume that the trickling of the Arab Spring or something would affect Korea, inspiring fury after five years of conservative government. But there just isn’t enough precedent to tell what the country’s natural governing party is—and Korea is, after all, a pretty socially conservative place.

Third and final Haps piece outlining the basics for this winter’s presidential election. Genuinely interesting narratives, unfortunately overflooded by people being instantly bored by the word “politics”. Ah well.