Did North Korea spoil election fete here?
Two Koreas drew global media attention last week as North Korea’s unsuccessful rocket launch amid international condemnation virtually coincided with a voter-driven election drama in South Korea.
Considering the reclusive nation’s previous attempts to meddle in the South’s domestic politics, the timing of the two events may have been linked.
Pyongyang may have rescheduled the launch date as it didn’t want post-election politics here to steal the show and size down its historic event to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of its late leader Kim Il-sung. South Korea is one of the audiences to which North Korea wanted to send its message with the launch of the rocket.
The conservative Saenuri Party gained the upper hand in the Wednesday elections after winning 152 of the 300 National Assembly seats, a surprising result given its unpopularity. The North Korean regime gave the go-ahead to the launch of the Kwangmyongsong 3 satellite on the back of the Unha-3 rocket two days after the conservatives’ election victory in the South.
Earlier, military authorities of South Korea and the United States predicted the launch could occur Saturday, given the fifth session of the 12th Supreme People’s Assembly and the centenary were scheduled for Friday and Sunday, respectively, in the North.
Speculation mushroomed here over North Korea’s motives of the alleged rescheduling of the launch Friday, a day earlier than the authorities expected.
Some North Korea watchers here said the regime might have wanted to treat representatives who came to Pyongyang from local cities for the assembly session with “a show of force.”
But this interpretation isn’t particularly convincing in that the North’s rocket launch was said to target hungry North Korean citizens to make them believe they live in “a prosperous and powerful nation” having cutting-edge science and military technology.
The North might have planned it simply because it liked the day. All people outside the country can do is guess the motives as the country is so secretive.
This reporter suspects the regime’s decision could probably have been affected by South Korea’s election schedule.
In private talks, some South Korean reporters said they are amazed by the North’s timing of releasing major statements. Breaking news from North Korea usually comes on Sundays, or other days when reporters struggle to find story items. This usually means the North Korean coverage is on the front pages.
If the allegation that North Korea is timing-sensitive on major announcements is true, it could have calculated the post-election coverage be dominated by the election results in South Korea and this would undercut the effect of the launch.
The North began fueling the rocket Wednesday, the same day South Koreans went to the polls to select National Assembly representatives. Sources said fueling begins two days before the launch of a rocket.
This indicates the North’s scientists and engineers got the green light to go ahead with the launch Wednesday when South Koreans went to polling stations.
Pyongyang tried to influence elections by stirring up the ideological divide in the South and attacking the Lee Myung-bak government as well as the conservative Saenuri Party. It has displayed a hatred of conservatives in South Korea.
The conservative party’s surprising win in the elections is apparently seen as unsavory by the North Korean regime as it was quoted as saying that it won’t deal with the Lee Myung-bak government.
During a press conference held in February, President Lee expressed worries over the North’s playing the election card ahead of April 11.
Kang Cheol-hwan, a North Korean defector, said North Korea was deeply involved in anti-Lee propaganda ahead of the elections to fan the anti-conservative sentiment. He predicted the North’s anti-conservative politics will intensify before the presidential election in December as they believed they suffered a lot after the conservative government cut rice shipments and other types of assistance.