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Effect of N.K. launch on election depends on success or failure: expert

North Korea’s impending long-range missile test will have a limited impact on South Korea’s presidential election with its degree largely depending on the success or failure of the launch, experts here said Tuesday.

North Korea installed the first stage of its three-stage rocket on its launch pad Monday, going ahead with its deadline set for between Dec. 10 and 22, despite vehement international condemnation.

Observers said it remains to be seen whether the launch itself will have a substantial influence over Seoul’s presidential election on Dec. 19, as the public has grown somewhat immune to confrontation with the North.

“Although (affecting) our presidential election would not be Pyongyang’s top-priority purpose (for the launch), it is aiming to remind of the precariousness and the fundamentally unimproved situation with the North through the launch,” said North Korea studies professor Yoo Ho-yeol of Korea University.

The success or failure of the launch, therefore, will be important as the capability of the intercontinental ballistic missile could affect security concerns and interests in the region.

“For instance, a failure could benefit the Saenuri Party (and its presidential candidate Park Geun-hye) as it would push ahead with sanctions such as through the U.N. Security Council,” Yoo said.

“In such a case that the launch turns out to be successful, it could give the Democratic United Party (and its candidate Moon Jae-in) an advantage, on the contrary, as heightened tension on the peninsula could raise calls for wider cooperation and exchanges.”

The pundits pointed out that the North’s missile will inevitably bring changes to the North Korea policies of the leading presidential contenders.

Park and Moon both place priority in promoting economic exchanges with the North, distancing themselves from the rigid position taken by the incumbent Lee Myung-bak administration. Park, however, maintains a sterner approach over North’s past provocations compared to Moon by demanding Pyongyang’s formal apology and a promise against their recurrence.

North Korea has often resorted to provocative measures around election time in the past.

Right before the 1987 presidential election, South Korea was thrown into shock and fury upon the bombing of a Korean Air flight, killing 104 passengers and 11 crew members on board.

Right before the 1992 presidential election, a North Korean espionage case involving Lee Sun-sil, a key figure in North Korea’s Communist Party, shook the nation.

More recently, the lethal attacks on the Cheonan in 2010 came right before the local elections, which the progressive opposition party won by underscoring their “peaceful cooperation” stance against the staunch position taken by the government.

By Lee Joo-hee (jhl@heraldcorp.com)
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