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Cablegate: Lee Myung-Bak's Olympic Mojo: Poll Increases

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DE RUEHUL #1710/01 2410631
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 280631Z AUG 08
FM AMEMBASSY SEOUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1399
INFO RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 4677
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 4803
RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW 8930
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RUALSFJ/COMUSJAPAN YOKOTA AB JA
RUACAAA/COMUSKOREA INTEL SEOUL KOR
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RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA SCJS SEOUL KOR
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC//OSD/ISA/EAP//

UNCLAS SEOUL 001710

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR KS KN
SUBJECT: LEE MYUNG-BAK'S OLYMPIC MOJO: POLL INCREASES
LIKELY TEMPORARY

1. (SBU) Summary: Recent opinion polls conducted by various
ROK media agencies show that President Lee Myung-bak's
approval rating is recovering, reaching between 24 to 31
percent in various polls taken from August 23. Pundits note
that the recent increase was mainly due to Korea's success at
the Beijing Olympic Games and the gradual lull of the
anti-U.S. beef protests. However, public opinion of
President Lee could change rapidly for the worse if his new
policies to privatize state-run companies and to reform the
real estate market and related tax system are not well
received. The policies are purportedly to overcome the
stagnation of the Korean economy and to reduce the cost of
living. If they fail, however, his Olympic boost could be
short-lived as dissatisfaction with Lee is still wide-spread.
End Summary.

--------------
MB's Baby Bump
--------------

2. (SBU) President Lee Myung-bak's (MB) approval rate was
74.4 percent on February 4, according to Korean Gallup,
before the February 25 inauguration. Since then, his
approval rating gradually fall to approximately 50 percent in
March -- due to public criticism of his personnel choices --
and then to approximately 30 percent at the end of April
because of his decision to resume U.S. beef imports.
According to Media Research, his approval rate plummeted to
17.2 percent in early June as a result of the candlelight
rallies against U.S. beef imports, and due to the increase of
prices of oil and commodities. The approval rate slightly
increased to 22.7 percent in July according to the Korean
Society Opinion Research Institution, but MB's public rating
has faced multiple obstacles such as the perceived
mishandling of a shooting death of a tourist at Mount Kumgang
resort in North Korea and Japan's renewed public claims on
the Liancourt Rocks (Dokdo/Takeshima).

3. (SBU) Specifically, Hangil Research carried out a survey
on the President's diplomatic policies toward Japan and the
U.S. on 19-20 July. According to the survey, approximately
72 percent of those polled responded negatively to President
Lee's attitude and policies on Japan compared to only 15.4
percent who responded positively. Also, approximately 67
percent responded negatively to President Lee's diplomatic
policies on the U.S. while 23.9 percent answered positively.

4. (SBU) According to recent media reports and opinion
polls, President Lee Myung-bak's popularity is recovering.
Korea Gallup said President Lee's approval rate reached 24.1
percent, up 3.4 percentage points from the previous survey on
June 28. The survey of 1,005 adults was conducted on August
23. Also, according to Korean Research, Lee's approval rate
reached 31.2 percent, up 4.3 percentage points from the
previous survey on July 14. The survey of 1,000 adults was
also conducted on August 23. In the same vein, the ruling
Grand National Party's (GNP) approval rating increased from
29.8 percent in June to 38.2 percent in August while that for
DP plunged from 18.3 percent to 16.5 percent over the same
period of time, according to Korean Gallup. Korean Research
also said the approval rating for the GNP rose from 30
percent to 35.1 percent.

---------------
Gold Medal Glow
---------------

5. (SBU) Most pundits attribute the recovering approval rate
to Korea's better-than-expected performance in the Beijing
Olympic Games and the gradual settlement of the beef row.
The Olympics, in particular, moved public attention from
economic difficulties and thorny issues like the bribery
scandal involving the first lady's sister. GNP and Blue
House sources cited in the press pointed out that the
President has been regaining popularity since the disputes
over U.S. beef imports, public appointments and Japan's claim
to the Liancourt Rocks have mellowed. Thanks to this and the
normalization of the National Assembly, the government is now
pursuing economic reforms more aggressively. On the other
hand, multiple sources argue that the recovering approval
rate is merely due to "return of tame rabbits," meaning that

the return of MB's traditional support base does not spell an
end to criticism.

-------
Comment
-------

6. (SBU) The uptick in support is a move in the right
direction. Lee's recently renewed support, however, might
not last for several reasons. First, the appointment of
heads of state-run companies and research institutions as
well as broadcaster KBS is likely to rekindle political and
social anger. Second, the stagnant economy and rising prices
of commodities are burdens for all Koreans and the "economic"
President Lee, right or wrong, gets blamed for not easing
this pain. Even though his staff claim that the president's
commitment to economic reform will enhance his ratings, the
array of policies regarding the real estate market, the
public sector, the tax system, plus energy and financial
industries are also controversial and many claim they are
either wrong-headed, only help the wealthy, or worse, both.
VERSHBOW

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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