by Min Bae
The five leading presidential candidates faced one another in their second TV debate last Wednesday, hosted by Korean Broadcasting System. The event drew nationwide attention as it was the first Korean presidential debate with candidates speaking without a script while standing up. The discussion was divided into two sessions: one on politics and national security, and the other on educational, economic, and sociocultural issues.
Although the pulpit method was implemented to facilitate discussion and appeal to voters, the two-hour debate seemed to revolve around grilling the dominant frontrunner Moon Jae In and the runner-up Ahn Cheol Soo over remarks they had made throughout their political careers.
Yoo Seong Min of the right-wing Bareun Party was first to unleash series of attacks on Moon, mostly concerning the controversy over the liberal front-runner’s decision to follow Pyongyang’s opinion on a 2007 UN resolution regarding North Korea’s human rights situation.
Hong Joon Pyo of the right-wing Liberty Korea Party accused Moon of condoning a charitable giving of $4.4 billion to North Korea when he was the chief aide to the liberal president Roh Moo Hyun. Hong also claimed that the money was used to fund North’s nuclear weapon program.
While Moon spent most of his discussion time defending himself, he asserted that the former President Kim Dae Jung’s Sunshine Policy and Roh’s engagement policy toward North Korea played a significant role in improving the relationship between the two Koreas. Moon also re-asserted his position against North Korea’s nuclear program, saying that the North’s nuclear issue has become much more serious and resolving it should be our priority.
Sim Sang Jung of the progressive Justice Party made sharp attacks to both Moon and Anh regarding the dispute around the deployment of an advanced missile defense system, Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), the predominant topic in the debate’s first session. She criticized Moon’s description of the deployment as “strategic ambiguity.”
“I was perplexed by Moon’s expressions such as ‘strategic ambiguity’ or ‘strategic prudence.’ These are words of a critic, not of a political leader.”
Moon was also criticized by Sim on his recent change in viewpoint on the THAAD issue from opposition to conditional approval. Ahn was criticized for shifting his opinion earlier last week; He proclaimed that the continuing military provocation from North Korea made the deployment inevitable.
An early election has been scheduled to take place on May 9 following the impeachment of the former right-wing president Park Geun Hye over her participation in a multi-million dollar corruption scandal. Park is currently under arrest on 13 charges including bribery and abuse of power. Anh and Moon, influential candidates with left-wing affiliations, emerged as two leading presidential contenders in public opinion polls.
It seems that the biggest winner of the second debate is Moon Jae In, with 41% of support. He managed to distance himself from the runner-up, Anh Cheol Soo by 11 % in a recent poll as Anh has lost 7 % of support after the debate.
According to the Yonhap News Agency, the second debate was watched by 26.4 % of Korean households, tripling the 7- 8 % average of viewership of public network broadcasting.