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Cablegate: Gwangju: Birthplace of Rok Democracy Gears Up For

VZCZCXYZ0001
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHUL #1088/01 1060417
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 160417Z APR 07
FM AMEMBASSY SEOUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3882
INFO RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 2327
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 2432
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RUALSFJ/COMUSJAPAN YOKOTA AB JA
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA J2 SEOUL KOR
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA J5 SEOUL KOR
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA SCJS SEOUL KOR
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC//OSD/ISA/EAP//

UNCLAS SEOUL 001088

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON ETRD KS PGOV PREL
SUBJECT: GWANGJU: BIRTHPLACE OF ROK DEMOCRACY GEARS UP FOR
2007 ELECTIONS


1. (SBU) Gwangju's votes were pivotal in electing Kim
Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun in 1997 and 2002. Also, the May
18, 1980 student uprising and massacre in Gwangju was a
defining moment in Korea's modern history and, due to
misinformation that tied the U.S. to the event, a source of
anti-Americanism in the region. Poloff went to Gwangju on
March 30 to meet opinion leaders, students and others to find
out what to expect from Gwangju voters in 2007. Gwangju,
with 1.4 million inhabitants, hopes to hit above its weight
this presidential election as it has in the past by providing
a base of support for a progressive candidate to emerge as a
legitimate competitor against the leading opposition
candidates.

----------
7080 FORUM
----------

2. (SBU) The 7080 Forum, made up of leaders of the 1980
Gwangju uprising and those that had key leadership roles in
the anti-dictatorship movement through the 70s and 80s, told
poloff that they would once again lead a popular wave of
progressive forces to victory in the December elections. Mr.
Choi, one of the leaders of the group and the oldest present,
said that "we will support any candidate as long as they are
not Grand National Party (GNP)." The group of about 30
members meets regularly and plans a large gathering with
other NGOs and activists at the end of April to kick off the
campaign season. Mr. Kim, a Democratic Labor Party member,
asked why the U.S. continued its imperialist ways in Iraq and
North Korea at the start of the meeting, but as poloff left,
Mr. Kim said he hoped to visit the U.S. and thanked poloff
for listening to his concerns.

-------------------
POLITICAL REPORTERS
-------------------

3. (SBU) Five political reporters from the leading regional
newspapers told poloff over lunch that Gwangju hoped to shed
its anti-American image and gain recognition for something
other than dissent such as culture or being the birthplace of
democracy in Korea. (NOTE: Jeolla Province is the birthplace
of former President Kim Dae-jung and was the center of
anti-government protests during the Park Chung-hee and Chun
Doo-whan regimes. END NOTE) They explained that the lack of
large-scale anti-FTA protests leading up to the agreement was
due to a recognition that the economy had to change. They
agreed that Lee Myung-bak's high approval rating (up to as
high as 36 percent in the Jeolla Provinces) would evaporate
once a progressive candidate emerged, but had no clear idea
who might emerge as the favorite in the southwest.

-----------
V-365 FORUM
-----------

4. (SBU) According to the leaders of Vision-365 Forum, that
group's organization could be key in mobilizing voters during
the primaries and the general elections throughout North and
South Jeolla Provinces. Mr. Kim Kyoung-hun, the
vice-president of the forum, told poloff the group had been
approached by all the leading candidates -- GNP, Uri Party
and even independents -- to request assistance organizing
support in the region. The forum hoped to go national, but
for now had representatives in every town throughout the
Jeolla Provinces. The purpose of the forum is to advocate
sound policies and, during elections, to provide organization
and support to future-minded, progressive candidates.

-----------
POLICE VIEW
-----------

5. (SBU) The Jeolla Province Police Chief of Information,
Mr. Kim, assured poloff over dinner that Gwangju and the
Jeolla Provinces would not vote 95 percent in favor of any
progressive candidate as they had in past presidential
elections. The three who head up the intelligence gathering
branch of the Jeolla Province police noted that Lee
Myung-bak's popularity would not disappear completely if he
were to become the GNP candidate and that he could expect
over 10 percent of the vote in Gwangju. They attributed this

less to the influence of Christianity in the Jeolla Provinces
(Lee is an elder in his church) as some claim and more to a
greater concern about the economy and a trend away from
regionalism.

-------
COMMENT
-------

6. (SBU) There is no doubt that Gwangju and its surrounding
province of Jeolla will vote overwhelmingly for a non-GNP
candidate in December. The only unknown is whether this
support is above or below 90 percent. Analysts believe that
Gwangju's principal concerns now go beyond politics and
regionalism. Poloff's visit confirmed this, especially
Gwangju's preoccupation with the economy. Gwangju is still
behind other regions in economic development, but many hope
that continued expansion of high-speed rail lines from Seoul
to the region and the World Expo in Yeosu (the southwest
coastal city is in the running for the 2012 World Expo) could
improve conditions for Gwangju and the region. These
economic concerns, we believe, could give a boost to
non-progressive candidates, especially former Seoul Mayor Lee
Myung-bak.
STANTON

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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