Goodbye, Sunshine?

With bedtimes looming across South Korea, it looks like Park Geun Hye has the election in South Korea. This will leave a number of pro-engagement NGOs in the ROK disappointed, but still hopeful that things will be easier for them than during the last few years. Like the freshly defeated Moon Jae In would have, Park likely will reach out to the North, the major difference being her advisors and governing coalition will be made up of people with a much lower threshold for continuing engagement through rough patches. They will demand reciprocity, but probably nothing like the outgoing president Lee. Moon had promised a return to the Sunshine Era.

Did North Korea influence this outcome by testing a rocket last week?

A few interesting editorials have emerged since the North's rocket launch last week suggesting that Pyongyang may actually prefer this outcome, in order to be able to use a conservative as a force to rally against. This idea isn't completely without merit, but it seems very much an exercise in counter-reasoning to explain the act. It doesn't take into account a number of things:

- North Korea doesn't really need a conservative South Korean to rally against. The US and an Abe-led Japan will (as always) certainly suffice in that regard.
- The rocket launch last week played little on the minds of the electorate, according to an Asan Institute Survey. Very few people I've talked to suggested it was on their minds at all when heading to the polls. Rocket launches don't affect the imaginations of the electorate here the way naval or border skirmishes might. They tend to be of far greater concern to Japanese and American interests. "Nerves in the South were frayed" last week, one newswriter stated on election day, but really they weren't. Despite the outcome of the election, this blase response to the launch was something Pyongyang was banking on.

- Pyongyang's domestic concerns were paramount in its decision to launch last week. Really, it makes more sense for North Korea, looking to lure investment but maintain stability, to have had Moon in office. If they did fear influencing the election, they decided it was worth the chance for what the domestic value was - massive.

North Korean media has criticized Park publicly several times in the last few months, but Park may have a few contacts from her trip in 2002 and follow-up communications that may be workable. Much may depend on the coalition she puts together to help her govern, however.

This election was in large part a referendum on Park herself and very little about North Korea. The doors to inter-Korean cooperation may not be flung open as they would have under Moon, but the coming years should look quite different from the last few.