Japan and Korea both saw conservatives win elections, amid a backdrop of rising tensions in East Asia over territorial disputes between China and Japan on one hand, and between South Korea and Japan on the other, as well as over North Korea's recent rocket launch that was widely criticised by the US and its allies.
Conservative candidate wins South Korean Presidential Election
South Korea’s National Election Commission confirmed around 1:25 a.m. on Thursday, 20 December, that Park Geun-hye of the ruling Saenuri Party had secured sufficient votes to make her the nation’s first female president.
Voter turn-out hit a record high in a poll dominated by economic and social welfare issues, including growing income inequality, job creation, the dominance of ‘chaebol’, or family-run conglomerates, and social welfare provision.
Voter participation rate was tentatively tallied at 75.8% – the highest turnout in 15 years. The high turnout rate has been attributed to greater participation by younger voters in their 20s and 30s.
Ms. Park, the daughter of the late General Park Chung-hee, is more popular among older voters, while younger voters were more supportive of Moon Jae-in, a human rights lawyer and Chief-of-staff during Roh Moo-hyun’s Administration. Moon was also involved in the pro-democracy movement during General Park’s reign.
Pre-election surveys had shown both candidates running neck-and-neck even in the days leading up to the December 19 polls. A third candidate, independent Ahn Cheol-soo, dropped out of the race in late November to avoid splitting the opposition vote.
While both candidates made promises of increasing social welfare spending, job creation and checking big business practices during their campaigns, they differ on their stances on North Korea and the anti-competition behaviour of ‘chaebol’. Ms. Park offers a more cautious approach to both relations with North Korea and ‘chaebols’, whereas Mr. Moon, who had a hand in Mr. Roh’s ‘Sunshine Policy’, has a more accommodating stance towards North Korea and wants to push for reduction of the dominance of ‘chaebol’ in the Korean economy.
Ms. Park replaces Lee Myung-bak, who is stepping down after his five-year term.
Report: Moon rises in open South Korea presidential race (Reuters, 8 February 2012)
Report: South Koreans vote in tightly-fought presidential poll (BBC News, 19 December 2012)
Report: Korea elects 1st woman president (Korea JoongAng Daily, 20 December 2012)
Report: Tight two-way race leads to highest turnout in 15 years (The Korea Herald, 20 December 2012)
Report: Park wins presidential race, becomes first woman chief executive (Yonhap News Agency, 20 December 2012)
Conservative LDP win Japan elections
Earlier this week, Japan’s voters went to the polls as well amid a backdrop of continued economic woes, territorial tensions with its Northeast Asian neighbours and domestic chagrin over nuclear policy.
The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) rebounded on growing disillusionment with the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which has been plagued since its ascension to power in 2009 with party infighting, corruption allegations and two changes of prime minister. The election also saw Shinzo Abe becoming Prime Minister for the second time.
The results see the House of Representatives, the lower house of the Diet, returning to LDP rule after a mere three years when DPJ broke more than half a century of nearly uninterrupted rule.
Yoshihiko Noda became DPJ leader and prime minister in August 2011 after predecessor Naoto Kan resigned in response to criticism of his handling of last March’s tsunami. Moreover, Mr. Noda’s popularity took a potentially fatal hit when he pushed through a move to double Japan's sales tax.
This is Mr. Abe’s second time as prime minister, after serving a year in office in 2006 and resigning a year later in response to persistently low opinion poll ratings, but returning as party leader in September 2012.
Mr. Abe is seen as a fiscal conservative and foreign-policy hawk, who has called for a more assertive Japan, worrying its Northeast Asian neighbours.
Report: Japan election: Shinzo Abe and LDP in sweeping win - exit poll (BBC News, 16 December 2012)
Report: Shinzo Abe's sumo-sized win (The Economist, 16 December 2012)
Report: In a year of big elections, Japan’s was Godzilla (Reuters, 20 December 2012)