Back To Top

[From the Scene] Mudslinging shows no sign of slowdown despite vows

Lee's Wednesday rally filled with denunciations, mockery of his rival

Supporters chant slogans as presidential nominee Lee Jae-myung of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea takes the stage Wednesday during a campaign event held near Gangnam Station in Seoul. (Ko Jun-tae/The Korea Herald)
Supporters chant slogans as presidential nominee Lee Jae-myung of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea takes the stage Wednesday during a campaign event held near Gangnam Station in Seoul. (Ko Jun-tae/The Korea Herald)
In the biting cold morning of Feb. 16, dozens of officials, campaign workers and volunteers were running left and right preparing a stage for the Democratic Party of Korea to launch its campaign event near Gangnam Station.

Presidential nominee Lee Jae-myung of the ruling party was scheduled to take the stage at noon, but plans were already in place to gather crowds to the area and have his senior campaign officials make supportive speeches hours beforehand.

Most supporters gradually flocked to the campaign site at around 11 a.m., as they were informed that former Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun would take the stage then to rally support and make supportive remarks for his party's pick for the presidential race. Near the stage were also dozens of journalists armed with cameras and laptops looking to report on the rally.

By noon, just before Lee took the stand, more than 200 supporters had gathered. However, the rally wasn't at full capacity attendance -- probably due to the extremely cold weather conditions and the fact that constituents in the region aren't so supportive of Lee and the liberal bloc.

Lee's election campaign committee told reporters a day earlier that the event would be centered on informing voters about Lee's vision for bringing opportunities to younger generations, and compensating businesses that suffered from complying with COVID-19 rules.

The candidate certainly did so while delivering a 40-minute speech to supporters at the scene, who loudly cheered him on throughout.

What the committee didn't inform the press beforehand, however, was how the event would be highlighted by mudslinging. Speeches concentrated fire on Lee's main rival Yoon Suk-yeol of the main opposition People Power Party.

"Yoon Suk-yeol is a person who can’t do anything without writing down 'king' on his palm," said Rep. Ki Dong-min, the head of the Democratic Party of Korea's Seoul branch, during his speech at the campaign event.

"I think he has gained some confidence in recent days. One of my acquaintances told me that (Yoon) must have written something on his body. He is someone who gives us reasonable doubt to believe it."

Ki was referring to an incident back in October, when Yoon faced criticism for having the Chinese character for "king" written on the palm of his hand during a televised debate among People Power Party presidential hopefuls. Yoon was mocked and criticized for "undercutting the dignity of politics" by bringing shamanism and mysticism to the race.

The lawmaker also accused Yoon of deliberately avoiding mandatory military service. Yoon was cleared from conscription due to anisometropia, a condition in which two eyes have unequal refractive power. But Ki said Yoon may have lied to avoid service, upon his hearing that Yoon is "excellent at billiards and golf."

Ki was not the only Democratic Party of Korea figure to raise such attacks against Yoon. In fact, almost everyone who took the stand deployed similar tactics in expressing their support for Lee and his vision for the presidency.

"Would someone vowing to create a republic run by the prosecution be good with the economy?" former SMEs Minister Park Young-sun with the Democratic Party of Korea shouted during her speech, referring to Yoon’s earlier comments on bringing back investigative power to the prosecution.

"Can someone who is thinking of providing a budget to the prosecution, which has been at the center stage of South Korea's dark history, and looking to create a dictatorship run by prosecutors -- can this person really bring progress for South Korea?"

Smear campaigns from all sides has been a driving theme of the ongoing presidential race. It has become all too common for candidates, politicians and campaign officials to denounce those from opposing sides in an attempt to raise appeal for their own.

The rally site at Gangnam Station was a clear representation of this trend, as some supporters of Lee were found carrying signs and posters denouncing Yoon for his possible links to shamanism, his prosecutorial career and his show of disloyalty against the liberal bloc and the Moon Jae-in administration.
Dolls made by a supporter of Lee Jae-myung are on display near Gangnam Station on Wednesday depicting Yoon Suk-yeol as a bear, his primary rival Rep. Hong Joon-pyo as a pig, former President Park Geun-hye as a chicken and her predecessor Lee Myung-bak as a rat. (Ko Jun-tae/The Korea Herald)
Dolls made by a supporter of Lee Jae-myung are on display near Gangnam Station on Wednesday depicting Yoon Suk-yeol as a bear, his primary rival Rep. Hong Joon-pyo as a pig, former President Park Geun-hye as a chicken and her predecessor Lee Myung-bak as a rat. (Ko Jun-tae/The Korea Herald)
One supporter displayed dolls depicting Yoon as a bear, his primary rival Rep. Hong Joon-pyo as a pig, former President Park Geun-hye as a chicken and her predecessor Lee Myung-bak as a rat. Some supporters carried signs that called for an end to the rule of the prosecution.

Of course, such tactics, speeches and performances are all too common in modern day elections. There has yet to be one completely free of defamatory remarks and displays.

Yoon’s supporters have also denounced and mocked Lee for pushing "populist" policies, having a criminal record and being "corrupt" based on past controversies.

"Where on earth can a development project that those investing 350 million won ($292,231) takes back close to 1 trillion won in return?" Yoon shouted to his supporters during his campaign event held in Cheongju, North Chungcheong Province, on Wednesday.

Yoon was alluding to allegations surrounding Lee and his aides for the controversial land development project in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, when Lee was mayor for the city. Yet he insisted his comments weren‘t intended to continue the smear campaign.

Supporters of the main opposition candidate mocked Lee and his wife in regards to power abuse allegations, claiming they are "parasites" for chipping away the tax income on unrelated personal matters like buying expensive meals with corporate cards.

But the Democratic Party of Korea's mudslinging on Wednesday was in stark contrast to what Lee suggested and promised to do before the press just weeks earlier.

"I understand that the people are deeply concerned with the 'negative' actions which have intensified during the presidential election," Lee said during a press conference held at the Democratic Party of Korea headquarters on Jan. 26.

"I, Lee Jae-myung, from now on will halt any 'negative' actions, and I ask the opposition bloc to join me."

That promise was certainly not kept, at least based on what was witnessed from Lee’s campaign officials and supporters at the scene. It was only a continuation of what Lee's and Yoon's campaign teams have done since the candidates won their parties’ nominations.

Yet Lee's campaign showed some respect toward striving for fair competition and discouraging foul play. There were moments of silence throughout the rally to pay condolences to the two campaign workers for Ahn Cheol-soo of the People's Party, who were found dead Wednesday.

During these moments of silence, all chanting and dancing ceased. Otherwise, the site was mostly filled with shouts and claps from supporters.

"Before I start this speech, we need to remember that everyone, even in a competition, is making his or her own efforts to bring better lives to the people of South Korea," Lee said before starting his speech.

"An unfortunate accident happened to campaign workers with candidate Ahn Cheol-soo. Before I make this speech, how about we take a moment of silence to express condolences to the deceased and their families?"

He then started his speech by emphasizing that people should remember that the government should not be working to fulfill the desire and greed of select groups -- indirectly referring to Yoon and his controversies.

Lee denounced Yoon during the speech for hinting in a recent media interview that his administration could start investigating into wrongdoings of the incumbent Moon administration.

"In today's difficult era, not using the power to change the world as provided, but rather resorting to use it for personal revenge reflects incompetency -- and this is a disaster that can damage our entire community," he said.

By Ko Jun-tae (ko.juntae@heraldcorp.com)
MOST POPULAR
LATEST NEWS
subscribe