Korea's Poll: Michael Jackson gets recruited to boost election campaign in crisis

A long-time dissident is likely to be the winner of today's election. But the election is being fought on personalities, not issues. Richard Lloyd Parry reports.

South Korea's presidential elections were defined, in all their gravity and absurdity, by a surreal encounter last weekend. The occasion was an international video conference organised by Kim Dae Jung, considered most likely to be chosen today as the country's new leader.

As an aspirant president, Mr Kim is naturally concerned about the economic crisis which has beset his country; to address the issue he brought together some of the world's most brilliant men for a meeting of minds. There was the financier George Soros. Then there was Mickey Kantor, a former US trade negotiator. But these were mere warm-up acts for the guest of honour, the man chosen to offer the concluding words of advice on Korea's future direction - Michael Jackson, the moon-walking American pop star.

Nothing could better sum up the atmosphere of the Korean elections than the pairing of George Soros and Michael Jackson. On the one hand, Koreans are voting today in an atmosphere of economic crisis, in which financial melt-down has been averted only by a humiliating appeal to the International Monetary Fund.

But despite the huge stakes, this has been an election campaign without issues, fought as a battle between personalities with a level of debate about as deep as a Michael Jackson lyric.

Throughout the campaign, high political drama has been overlaid with cynicism so daring as to border on farce. Since early this year, the incumbent, Kim Young Sam, the country's first wholly civilian president, has been a joke leader, hobbled by family scandals and the failure of his economic policies. Almost the only consistent policy pursued by candidates has been a desire to put distance between themselves and him.

When the third-ranking candidate, Rhee In Je, was reported to have the leader's secret support, it almost scuppered his campaign. The President's chosen successor, Lee Hoi Chang, was so embarrassed by the connection that he changed the name of his party from New Korea Party to Grand National Party - although the party's offices, personnel and organisation remain the same. But the most remarkable act of political opportunism has been perpetrated by Kim Dae Jung, a former dissident and political prisoner who escaped assassination in 1973 at the hands of the Korean CIA (KCIA).

Mr Kim has lost three presidential elections, a victim of regionalism which guarantees his support in his home region of Cholla, but makes it difficult to win support elsewhere. So he has joined hands with another veteran Kim - Kim Jong Pil, the ultra-conservative founder of the KCIA and his long-time tormentor and nemesis. Publication of opinion polls was banned three weeks ago and, although the last ratings had Kim Dae Jung a few points ahead, Mr Lee was catching up.

A Kim Dae Jung victory would be historic in that no opposition party has taken power in Korea. On the other hand, at the age of 72, he is the representative of a political generation which many would be glad to have put out to grass.

Mr Lee has a bracing reputation for rectitude and incorruptibility - but as leader of the establishment party, he may not be up to the task of taking on the country's vested interests. In public, the candidates have said little to distinguish them apart, except for last week, when Mr Rhee and Kim Dae Jung briefly flirted with the idea of renegotiating the IMF deal. Their much-hyped television debates have produced little more than personal abuse.

Who will win today's election is difficult to say. Perhaps the more important question is whether it matters either way.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
football
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
News
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<p>
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
</p>
<p>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
<p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
<p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
News
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
Voices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?