Today, election day in South Korea, The New York Times features two stories: an election overview, "South Korea’s Election: What We Know So Far," by the always excellent Choe Sang-hun, and a report, "South Korea’s Powerful Family Business Ties Could Be Tough to Cut," on South Korea's system of corporate oligarchy known as chaebol, written by Jonathan Soble, Jeyup Kwaak and Choe Sang-hun
Exit polls have declared Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party the winner. Moon stands for reining in the chaebol, reevaluating the U.S. deployment of THAAD, and talking with North Korea. All good things. But most importantly, Moon surfed to victory on a people power wave. According to Choe Sang-hun,
During huge, monthslong rallies that propelled [Park Geun-hye's] impeachment, South Koreans called for the ouster of not only Ms. Park, a conservative icon, but also what they called jeokpae — the entrenched corruption and incompetence that people said have bedeviled successive governments.But taking on the deep state is a Herculean task. Look what U.S. citizens got out of the Obama landslide in 2008 -- a moderate stimulus bill, a bank and auto manufacturer bailout, and the recently-House-repealed Obamacare. As Soble, Kwaak and Choe note:
“Leaders, markets, they don’t change overnight,” said Rhyu Sang-young, a professor of political economy at Yonsei University in Seoul. “Every culture has a strong legacy, inertia. It takes time.”
The front-runner in Tuesday’s election, Moon Jae-in, has vowed to stop families from using nonprofit foundations, complicated shareholding plans and other methods to keep control of businesses. One of his main advisers is Kim Sang-jo, an economist known for hawkish views on the chaebol.
But the Democratic Party, led by Mr. Moon, holds only 119 seats in the 300-member legislature, the National Assembly. The Democrats would find it hard to get support from rival parties in passing chaebol reform bills through a fractured legislature, where a pro-business lobby also remains strong. Passing a bill will take many months of wrangling.
Mr. Moon has also promised to make prosecutors more independent and to make it more difficult for a president to abuse the power of the office, limiting the ability of chaebol to collude with the authorities and escape justice. But such reforms would likely require a revision of the Constitution, which would be very difficult to pull off given the nation’s fractious politics.Not if the people stay mobilized, which, granted, is something very difficult to achieve. Obama failed to do it -- by choice -- after each of his landslide elections, though he made the effort to convert Obama for America into Organizing for Action after the 2012 election. Now, in the Trump era, Organizing for Action is more active than ever.
My sense is South Koreans are more locked in and less prone to somnambulance than their American cousins. So we have much to be hopeful about with the election of Moon.