December 19, 2012

Korean Elections

Today, Wednesday December 19th, 2012 I will sleep in late, and then I will get out of bed when I please to drink some coffee. I will take my time responding to emails from friends and family, and I will possibly be calling my family back home as well. Then, instead of going to work, I am going to meet up with my friends and go to the theme park Everland. The reason I can do this on a random Wednesday is that the Korean presidential election will be held on today. The schools actually close and businesses shut down. They really celebrate their democracy here in Korea.

This election is very important for several reasons. One of the biggest things about this particular election is that the candidate currently leading the polls is Park Geun-hye, a woman.

If she is elected she will be the first female Korean president. The hope of many is that she will bring legislation and laws that protect women’s rights and bring about equality. Korea has one of the largest gaps between the genders in modernized nations.

If you are familiar with Korean politics and history, you may already know who this woman’s father is; her father is Park Chung-hee. He is the former authoritarian leader of South Korea, and he was president from 1962 until his assassination in 1979. Since he was a president for so long, the presidency is now limited to one five-year term per candidate.

He is spoken of with a lot of love and hate, and left a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths. He is the leader who pushed South Korea into economic greatness, but he also had a lot of human rights violations as well. He was known to imprison people who spoke out against the government and have people tortured.

Because of her father’s actions from over 30 years ago, the presidential candidate has publicly apologized for the human rights violations her father committed during his rule. It doesn’t change anything – it just makes the voter feel better.

The opposing candidate is Moon Jae-in, who doesn’t have a clean background either. He is associated with former President Roh Moo-Hyun, who came under investigation in a bribery scandal. The scandal was so bad that Roh Moo-Hyun committed suicide because of it in 2009. Moons association with Roh has not helped in his campaign to become president.

The world as a whole is watching this election and many are realizing how important it is for the stability of the region, especially in regards to North Korea.

Both candidates have promised to take a softer approach with North Korea, which I find surprising. I would have thought that there would be a call to be tougher on the North. They have committed several acts of aggression over the last couple of years, many of which could have justifiably led to war.

The issue many Native English Teachers (NETs), like myself who work for the public school system, are nervous about is that the South Korean government may cut the funding to English departments across Korea. They have already cut the workforce of English teachers in Seoul by 40 percent.

The English teachers cost a significant amount of money to employ and keep in Korea. This includes salary, flight costs, apartments, insurance, and the largely unseen cost of administrative fees.

All in all, they claim that a NET costs between 40,000,000 to 60,000,000 WON, which is roughly $35,000 to $55,000 a year.

The Good: maybe the new president will be able to persuade North Korea to become a better nation.

The Bad: I may very well be out of a job in six months.

Image Credit: Stephen Finn / Shutterstock

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