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South Korean voters opt for 'reason over confrontation'with the North (WP)
BlaineHarden 
 

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South Korean voters opt for


'reason over confrontation'


with the North

PHOTOS
  Previous        Next    
North Korean soldiers cruise near the border with China. Many South Koreans see the North as too dangerous to challenge overtly.
 
 
 
North Korean soldiers cruise near the border with China. Many South Koreans see the North as too dangerous to challenge overtly. (Ng Han Guan/associated Press)
Women look out to sea from a popular beach in Pusan, South Korea. South Korean voters did not support the ruling Grand National Party in Wednesday's elections.
 
 
 
 
 
Women look out to sea from a popular beach in Pusan, South Korea. South Korean voters did not support the ruling Grand National Party in Wednesday's elections. (Wally Santana/associated Press)
 
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By Blaine Harden
 
Saturday, June 5, 2010
 
 

SEOUL -- The pre-election narrative seemed certain to win hearts, minds and votes. An explosion at sea ripped apart a South Korean warship, killing 46 sailors and outraging a nation. An international investigation concluded that a North Korean torpedo had sunk the ship.

This Story

With elections looming, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak told his countrymen he would no longer tolerate such brutality. He severed trade links with the government of Kim Jong Il and vowed: "North Korea will pay a price."

 

But the fervor petered out as quickly as it arose. Voters did not rally round their president in Wednesday's local and regional elections. There was no Korean version of the "9/11 effect" that many had predicted. Instead, Lee's ruling Grand National Party was clobbered, stunned party bosses quit in shame and North Korea pronounced itself pleased.

 

The election results suggest that many South Koreans, even those who are angry at North Korea for the Cheonan's sinking and the deaths of their countrymen, are more concerned about maintaining peace than with teaching Kim a lesson.

 

In a nation obsessed with education, consumption and the accumulation of wealth, voters have too much to lose. In interviews over the past two weeks, many said their desperately poor and heavily armed northern neighbor is too dangerous and too bizarrely governed to challenge overtly.

 

"There is no winner if war breaks out, hot or cold," said Lim Seung-youl, 27, a clothing distributor here who voted for the main opposition Democratic Party. "Our nation is richer and smarter than North Korea. We have to use reason over confrontation."

Most South Koreans, election returns show, do not see North Korea with the same moral clarity as their pro-American president, whose announcement of "stern measures" against the North was praised by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton as "entirely appropriate."

 

Young voters were especially disenchanted with Lee's tough talk, exit polls show. They voted in unexpectedly high numbers, goading each other with tweets and text messages to get to the polls and casting most of their ballots for the Democratic Party, which questioned North Korea's involvement in sinking the warship and accused Lee's government of rigging the investigation that blamed the North.

 

The Obama administration praised the probe for being professional, thorough and convincing.

 

Most political analysts interpreted the vote as a rebuke of Lee for raising tensions too high after the Cheonan sank near a disputed sea border between the two Koreas.

 

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In the streets of Seoul, even the president's supporters said he and his party went too far.

 

"It was obvious that the government was trying to use the Cheonan politically," said Kim Mee-kyung, 46, a housewife who voted for the ruling party. "At first all Koreans supported Lee, but then he was too strong. In dealing with North Korea, moderation is best."


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South Korean voters opt for '


reason over confrontation'


with the North

PHOTOS
  Previous        Next    
North Korean soldiers cruise near the border with China. Many South Koreans see the North as too dangerous to challenge overtly.
 
North Korean soldiers cruise near the border with China. Many South Koreans see the North as too dangerous to challenge overtly. (Ng Han Guan/associated Press)
Women look out to sea from a popular beach in Pusan, South Korea. South Korean voters did not support the ruling Grand National Party in Wednesday's elections.
 
 
 
Women look out to sea from a popular beach in Pusan, South Korea. South Korean voters did not support the ruling Grand National Party in Wednesday's elections. (Wally Santana/associated Press)
 
Discussion Policy
Comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions. You are fully responsible for the content that you post.

Since the end of the Korean War in 1953, South Koreans have had decades to refine what moderation means in response to provocations from a next-door dictatorship that has thousands of artillery pieces aimed at metropolitan Seoul.

This Story

Bloody surprise attacks have a way of recurring here every 10 to 15 years, from the 1968 raid by a hit squad sent to try to assassinate a South Korean president, to the bombing of a Korean Air passenger jet in 1987, to a submarine infiltration by special forces commandos in 1996, to the Cheonan sinking in late March.

 

The attacks have killed large numbers of people, but they have yet to provoke Seoul into launching a major counterattack against North Korea. Nor have they stopped the average South Korean from getting richer, better educated and better housed in what has become the fourth-largest economy in Asia.

 

"Experience teaches South Koreans not to overreact," said Ryoo Kihl-jae, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies here. "I think people here interpreted Lee's response to the Cheonan to be like a new Cold War. But now it is the 21st century, and that kind of thinking is seen as old-fashioned, as well as harmful to the economy and people's standard of living."

 

Rather than seeking clarity, justice or vengeance in response to North Korea's periodic outrages, South Koreans seem to be willing to muddle through in ever-more-prosperous shades of gray. The election results suggest they want Lee's government to calm down and do likewise.

 

Officials in the president's office told local newspapers that the election was a "serious setback" for Lee's agenda. The Democratic Party demanded that the president apologize to the nation for turning the Cheonan's sinking into a national security crisis.

That seemed unlikely. But Lee appeared surprised and chastened by the vote. His spokesman quoted the president as saying, "The election outcome should be received as an opportunity for self-examination."


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