Whether or not they can accept the minimal result of the March 9 presidential election, many South Koreans would be glad to know that the stressful election is finally over.
In an event dubbed the “most disgusting presidential election” filled with accusations and scandals on a daily basis, the defeated candidate, former Gyeonggi Province Governor Lee Jae-myung of the liberal ruling Democratic Party (DP), and President-elect Yoon Suk- The yeol of the conservative opposition People’s Power Party (PPP) are unlikely to be remembered as candidates who inspired voters throughout their campaigns.
As if the antipathy of the two candidates was not bad enough, the scandals also involved the relatives of the two main candidates.
Both Yoon’s and Lee’s wives had to be eliminated from the campaigns entirely, unlike other elections where spouses often played a significant role, and other family members such as Lee’s son and mother-in-law de Yoon, they were also recurring guests in various scandals. and accusations.
Perhaps as an attempt to improve his shattered public image. candidates paraded dogs and cats in this election described as a “dog fight in the mud”.
Of course, showing off pets is nothing new for Korean politicians. With the exception of Kim Young-sam, all Korean presidents had dogs during their tenure, including outgoing President Moon Jae-in.
President Moon’s cat Jjing-Jjing actually became the first “first cat” in South Korean history, and Moon, as a candidate, also promised to adopt a rescue dog named Tory if elected; Tory was later inducted into President Moon’s first family of pets, which includes two Pungsan dogs gifted by North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in 2018.
However, the campaigns for this presidential election seemed to have raised the importance of pets and animals in a somewhat strange way, with quotes and social media presence.
In January, Lee’s campaign launched an Animal Rights Committee and named three dogs and one cat as honorary members of the committee, with official certificates issued in their names.
National Assembly DP member Ko Minjung, a co-chair of the committee and a former spokeswoman for the Moon administration, later posted a series of photos of cats, dogs and a rabbit on her Facebook page under the caption “Supporting Candidate Lee Jae-Myung,” with their names, ages, and reasons why they support Lee.
Ko’s Facebook posts were soon ridiculed by opposition party politicians, including PPP leader Lee Jun-seok, who commented that “the fundamental principle of animal rights is not to use animals as tools, and using animals for political campaigns in itself shows a lack of understanding of animal rights.”
While Lee Jun-seok mockingly said during his heated disputes with Ko that he, as party leader, had no interest in launching animal-centric campaigns since humans come first, his party’s campaign highlighted pets. of Yoon.
Yoon, who owns seven pets, including two stray dogs and three stray cats, regularly expressed his great affection towards his pets on his Facebook page.
In her YouTube series where Yoon cooks and serves citizens, she told a YouTuber with eight dogs, “I don’t know how I could have endured [the] last 10 years without my dogs.” The campaign also circulated stories such as how Yoon adopted Tory from a shelter where he volunteered and performed 17 surgeries to save Tory instead of euthanizing him as recommended after a car accident.
Yoon also opened a separate pet Instagram account for Tory when she opened her own during the PPP primary last July, likely following a popular trend among young pet owners to open “sub-accounts” for their pets.
The humorous Instagram account under Tory’s name was full of puns and satire on Yoon’s quirky habits, which seemed aimed at humanizing the former attorney general amid increasingly negative views of him.
However, Tory’s Instagram account was shut down after three months as she was seen making fun of people just hours after Yoon publicly apologized for her earlier comments. Tory then resurfaced when Yoon created a Twitter account introducing himself as the “father of four puppies and three kittens”, which predominantly featured pictures of his pets without any mention of politics.
Of course, the importance of pets isn’t just about reputation management, but is now directly related to a dramatically increasing number of votes.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs estimated that 6.38 million households (27.7% of households in the country) own around 8.6 million pets according to a survey conducted in 2020, compared to 4.57 million homes in 2015.
In its probably most accurate five-year census, Statistics Korea (KOSTAT) also surveyed the number of pets in households for the first time in history to capture social changes related to an increasing number of pets, finding that there were about 3, 13 million households (15% of the total) with pets in 2020.
With the winner of the presidential election determined by less than 250,000 votes with a margin of just 0.73% between the two, politicians are likely to continue to court pet owners as a significantly growing voting bloc.
The fact that three of the four main candidates (Lee Jae-myung, Ahn Cheol-soo of the People’s Party before his resignation, and Sim Sang-jung of the progressive Justice Party) separately joined one of the YouTube channels related to most popular cats. with 1.32 million subscribers it signifies the growing importance of pet owners in Korean politics.
Yoon, who will begin his term with more pets than any previous president, is also likely to see his pets remain the centerpiece of his public engagement. Hiw’s office shared photos of Yoon spending his first weekend as president-elect walking Tory along the Han River, picking up the dog’s waste along the way.
Yoon also reacted to the news that outgoing President Moon may not be able to keep the two North Korean Pungsan dogs when he officially resigns on May 9, saying, “The dogs must be kept by the owner who raised them. But if they give them to me, I will raise them well.”
All of the major candidates in the election submitted various pet-related campaign promises, so in theory, pet owners and their pets were expected to win regardless of the results.
Yoon’s campaign promises included the creation of an animal services agency, the introduction of standardized veterinary service fees, tax exemption and tax deduction on veterinary services, mandatory registration and taxes on cats to change of pet insurance benefits, the promotion of related service industries, the eradication of illegal puppies. mills, and expansion of pet parks and playgrounds.
Interestingly enough, all the candidates said they hoped to introduce standardized fees for veterinary services and categorize different services. On the more controversial issue of allowing the trade and consumption of dog meat, which sparked controversy during the PPP primaries last year due to Yoon’s inflammatory comments, his policy manifesto briefly mentions that he will push to ban dog meat. , without providing much detail.
When the 21st National Assembly convened about two years ago, Joy, a guide dog for visually impaired National Assembly member Kim Ye-ji of the PPP, made history by becoming the first dog allowed into the chamber. and other meeting rooms. thanks to support across party lines for a change in the rules. This year’s bitter presidential election calls into question whether the political parties can work together in such a way during the next legislative period.
The campaigns, however, also featured certain pet policies that are very similar or identical to each other. While it may not be as big an issue as amending the constitution, it might be a small area that the Yoon administration and the National Assembly can work on together.