Reactions to Korea Election Results Mixed in Metro Area

On May 9 at a restaurant in Palisades Park, New Jersey, Koreans watch TV news, waiting for the result of the South Korea’s presidential election. (Photo via Korea Daily)

[Translator’s note: South Koreans elected a new president, Moon Jae-in of the liberal Democratic Party, ending 153 days of absence in presidential leadership in the country after the former leader Park Geun-hye was impeached and ousted. With all the votes counted by 6 a.m. on May 10 (Korea Time), he had 41.08 percent. His closest rivals, Hong Joon-pyo of the conservative Liberty Korean Party and centrist Ahn Cheol-soo of the People’s Party had 24.03 percent and 21.41 percent, respectively. As the news of Moon’s victory unfolded across South Korea, Koreans in New York and New Jersey expressed mixed reactions to the election of Moon in this article from Korea Daily.]

‘Modesty,’ ‘Unity,’ ‘Accountability,’ ‘Justice,’ and ‘North-South Korea relations.’

These are the keywords that Koreans in the New York area used to describe what they hope to see from South Korea’s new, 19th President-elect, Moon Jae-in.

In the afternoon of May 9, as exit polls pointed to Moon’s victory for the liberal Democratic Party, Koreans in the New York region expressed mixed reactions: some worried that the country is still deeply divided and that distrust in government is at an all-time high after the ouster of the former leader Park Geun-hye, but some expressed hope for South Korea.

“Throwing away everything that eroded the country’s government in the past, I hope the next president will become a forward-looking leader without corruption,” said Taeyoung Jang, 48, during a watch party in Flushing, Queens.

Some also hope that Moon will be a president who can play a role in unifying the divided country by showing his modesty; not one who reigns above his citizens by reveling in the power of the office.

“I want to see President-elect Moon govern the country with the humble attitude of an ordinary citizen, and not like one who takes his presidency for granted,” said Hogyun Son, president of the New Jersey Korean American Chamber of Commerce. “If he keeps himself from acting like an imperial leader and tries hard to communicate with ordinary people, he will be able to unite the country and embrace the Korean population overseas.”

Sunyeop Kim, president of the Korean American Chamber of Commerce in Greater New York, said that he wants President-elect Moon to work for citizens and to care about empowering Korean community who are abroad.

Unity and harmony for South Korea were also stressed through the voices of Koreans in New York. Jaechang Oh, 66, said that the country is almost evenly divided and it needs to be unified to become one country. An activist for Korean Americans and the president of the Korean American Parents Association of Greater New York, Yoonhee Choi, said: “Koreans were psychologically wounded [as the government corruption scandal unfolded]. The next president’s role is to heal our broken hearts and look to our future by unifying us.”

Rebuilding trust among communities that tend not to compromise with one another seems to be a crucial task for Koreans. “All the rhetoric that people make toward others only divides the country. It doesn’t do any good for us. We need to focus more on finding a way to improve our quality of life,” said Jongchul Lee, deputy mayor of Palisades Park. “Even if you didn’t vote for Moon, it’s time to acknowledge his victory and to give him a chance. Some Koreans say Moon will be too soft on North Korea and that his victory is disappointing. But it’s time to forget this and to give him trust.”

As tensions between the two Koreas rose during the election season with the absence of the country’s presidential leadership, Korean Christians like Yoohwan Yang, an elder of the Pilgrim Church in Paramus, NJ, said they hope to see the two Koreas ease up on the current tensions and become more unified.

While there were some positive hopes expressed, disappointment about Moon’s victory lingered in the Korean community. “It’s deplorable,” said a Korean in Flushing who didn’t identify himself, referring to the election of Moon. “I think he will govern the country in a very self-centered way.” [Many conservative Koreans think that Moon’s liberal views are so strong that there will be little opportunity for compromise.] Statements like these may signal that the biggest task that lies ahead for Moon seems to be healing a deeply divided country, which could present an early challenge for his presidency.

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