Show-biz replaces politics in Korean elections: With no burning issues, candidates are obsessed with image, writes Terry McCarthy in Seoul

IF IT had not been for the thousands of flags of Kim Young Sam, a presidential candidate, waving in the crowd, the scene could have been an open-air variety show. A string of singers, actresses and television personalities came up on to the stage to entertain the tens of thousands who had turned out for a last-minute rally in the south-eastern city of Ulsan before tomorrow's presidential elections in South Korea. The crowd was enjoying the show so much that the arrival of Mr Kim seemed, if anything, an anticlimax.

Hyun Chol, a popular singer in his 40s wearing a green suit, a pea-green shirt, a broad tie with a vertical piano keyboard design and buffed-up hair, set the crowd alight with some tasteful crooning. He then went down on his knees and bowed with his forehead to the ground to request humbly votes for candidate Kim.

Another group of singers came on stage, rousing the crowd to a frenzy as Mr Kim's helicopter appeared over the hills and circled the stage before landing on a purple smoke canister in a nearby field. A vanguard of grey-clad cheerleaders came jogging in formation through the crowd and, as the music reached a climax, the singers on stage turned in unison to point at the poster of Mr Kim behind them.

To cap all this, Kim Young Sam would have had to burst through the poster and land on stage in a Superman suit. In fact the candidate of the ruling Democratic Liberal Party (DLP) arrived on an open-topped bus. Short of build and not renowned for his oratory, Mr Kim made an average speech which saw the fringes of the crowd starting to peel away before he had finished.

But the fanfare was all. Tomorrow's elections are set to be South Korea's closest contest ever for the presidency. Yesterday's newspapers carried polls showing 30 per cent of voters were still undecided, and although polls on actual voting preferences are against the law, the candidates' advisers themselves admit the vote is going to be tight. With few concrete policy differences between the three main candidates, image- building is now crucial.

So is image-knocking - of the opposing candidates. Facing Kim Young Sam, 65, is his former ally and now arch-rival, Kim Dae Jung, 67, of the opposition Democratic Party (DP), and 77-year-old Chung Ju Yung, the business magnate who founded South Korea's second-largest conglomerate, Hyundai, and is staging a Ross Perot-style bid for power.

After spending last week assailing Mr Chung for relying on the 170,000 employees of Hyundai to campaign for him, Kim Young Sam has turned his guns on Kim Dae Jung, accusing him of Communist tendencies and links with North Korea. The DP candidate has rejected these charges as a futile smear campaign. For good measure, Mr Chung chipped in to this carnival of democracy yesterday with a claim that a close aide of Kim Young Sam had bought a house with money supplied by a North Korean group in Japan.

Mr Chung has become a complicating factor, but essentially the contest is the final round in the long grudge match between the two Kims. Although both fought against military rule, they have both had their eyes on the presidency, and their failure to unite in 1987 split the opposition vote, allowing the former general, Roh Tae Woo, to win.

This time there are no military candidates and no burning election issues for the candidates to campaign on, apart from the slowing of the Korean economy. So in their place is show business, amplified music and a stream of personal insults that are becoming more daring the closer the election gets. It shows a robust freedom of speech that South Koreans have come to value in their five years of democratic rule.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
Australia vs New Zealand live
cricket Follow over-by-over coverage as rivals New Zealand and Australia face off
News
Zayn has become the first member to leave One Direction. 'I have to do what feels right in my heart,' he said
peopleWe wince at anguish of fans, but his 1D departure shows the perils of fame in the social media age
Life and Style
Researchers found that just 10 one-minute swill-and-spit sessions are enough to soften tooth enamel and make teeth vulnerable to erosion
health
News
i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
The Regent Street Cinema’s projection room in the 1920s
film
News
Leah Devine is only the ninth female to have made the Young Magician of the Year final since the contest began more than 50 years
peopleMeet the 16-year-old who has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year
News
Jonathan Anderson was born in Northern Ireland but now based between London, where he presents a line named JW Anderson
peopleBritish designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing