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Populist Challenge and Its Backlash

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WPS 09-08: Populist Challenge and Its Backlash, by Kang Miongsei, Ph.D. In the 2002 presidential elections in South Korea, Roh Moo-hyun, a relatively unknown politician at the time, edged out his conservative opponent by engaging Korea’s lower and working class citizens and distancing himself from Korea’s political elites. Many of his critics labeled him a populist and often characterized him as a demagogue. In this paper, Dr. Kang analyzes Roh’s presidential campaign against a populist framework, to identify the factors that contributed to Roh’s success in 2002, as well as to offer insight into the overwhelming turn to conservatism in the 2007 presidential elections, when Lee Myung-bak won a landslide victory.