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N.K. has little influence over voter sentiment

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Published : 2012-04-09 21:05
Updated : 2012-04-09 21:05

Voters get used to  hackneyed security threats from Pyongyang


North Korea appears to have little influence over voter sentiment here ahead of Wednesday’s general election as many have grown tired of the hackneyed security issues involving the communist state, analysts said Monday.

Some observers presumed that amid strident talk of Pyongyang moving to launch a long-range rocket and conduct a third nuclear test, voters could have jitters and seek stability in favor of the ruling bloc. But that prediction seems to be far-fetched.

“I don’t think voters are still naive or ignorant when any political force seizes on North Korea to turn the political tide in its favor. We have just had enough of that,” said Won Kyu-wang, a 45-year-old office worker in Seoul.

Yoon Pyung-joong, a political philosophy professor at Hanshin University, said that past attempts to use North Korea in the elections backfired with voters staying abreast of the political maneuvering.
An official displays lawmakers’ badges for the 19th National Assembly on Monday. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

“Whether they were conservative or liberal, there had been attempts to use North Korea as a tool to influence the electoral outcome. Former President Kim Dae-jung announced his plan to hold the first-ever inter-Korean summit several days prior to the general election in 2000,” he said.

“But those attempts failed to achieve their desired effect. Voters have already learned of the political maneuvering. They are not naive enough to be fooled by that again.”

While the North has persistently stuck to its military adventurism, under which it conducted two nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, South Koreans now just shrug off threats from Pyongyang, Yoon added.

“When the North conducted the first nuclear test, the repercussions here lasted for quite a long time. But the shock has significantly diminished since the second test. I believe a third test, should it ever occur, would not have any considerable impact on voter sentiment,” he said.

“What matters most for voters is issues concerning their livelihood and the overall economy. North Korea is no longer an issue that directly affects their lives.”

However, renewed tensions from North Korea’s provocative acts could help bring existing conservative voters together, although they may not lead to an increased support base for the ruling bloc, said Choi Young-jin, a political science professor at Chung-Ang University.

“North Korea is no longer any significant variable in the elections after the Kim Dae-jung government. However, it can be a factor to help conservative voters coalesce,” he said.

“But that may not lead to the creation of a new support base for the ruling bloc or cause any group to bolt from their original affiliation and join the conservative camp.”

Amid signs that the North is in the final stage of preparations for a satellite launch, the ruling and opposition parties alike are carefully watching the developments, hoping that they will not have any negative ramifications for them.

Some in the ruling Saenuri Party are apparently concerned that voters could feel bad about the current Lee Myung-bak administration’s failure to improve ties with Pyongyang.

The main opposition Democratic United Party also looks apprehensive that, at a time of inter-Korean tension, voter sentiment could turn unfavorable for the opposition bloc.

After government intelligence officials revealed just three days before the parliamentary elections that the North is preparing for another nuclear test, the opposition party responded sensitively.

“We call for all efforts to stop the rocket launch and secure peace on the peninsula. There should not be any action that sparks suspicion that (the government) tries to use the North for domestic politics),” DUP spokesperson Park Yong-jin said in a statement.

By Song Sang-ho (sshluck@heraldcorp.com)

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