Moon Jae-in, the head of the Roh Moo-hyun foundation, has has been a rising star in progressive circles over the past several months and is emerging as a serious contender for the presidential nomination on a fusion ticket of progressive parties.

Moon first appeared on the radar of political observers as a result of his work on unifying progressive parties for the by-elections last April.  As noted in this column, on June 6, Moon will likely concentrate his efforts over the next several months on negotiating the unification of the various progressive parties, especially the main opposition Democratic Party and the upstart People’s Participation Party (the personal vehicle of presidential aspirant Rhyu Si-min), ahead of the General Assembly elections next spring.  Such work will position Moon well as a unity candidate in the presidential election to be held later in 2012.

Moon Jae-in served as paratrooper in the Korean military after serving a prison term for protesting against the Park Chung-hee dictatorship.

So, it is worthwhile to learn more about Moon.  The Korean has a post in the Marmot’s Hole on Moon that helps explain his profile further:

Moon’s life is definitely interesting — he was born in Busan, and majored in law at Kyunghee University. He was in street protests against Park Chung-Hee administration, was imprisoned, then was drafted into Special Forces right after his prison term. He served as a UDT, and his commanding officer was none other than Chun Doo-Hwan. He was on the Board of Directors when Hankyeoreh was founded in 1988, and worked as a human rights attorney all the way until Roh Moo-Hyun’s presidential campaign.

In other words, Moon looks like the dream candidate for the Progressives. His Progressive pedigree is absolutely impeccable, AND he is from Busan (such that he could eat into GNP’s lead in Gyeongsang-do, as Roh did) AND he has the best military record among everyone in the field.

The Busan connection is important.  While North Gyeongsang Province and Daegu has been loyal GNP territory, the southeastern corner of the country (including South Gyeongsang Province, Busan and Ulsan) has been less loyal at times, having split its support between the GNP and progressive parties at times.  The presence of Moon on the presidential ballot could help bring a significant number of votes away from the GNP in that region.

One of the challenges for Moon would be to win votes in the industrial city of Ulsan, which is a tradition base for the far-left Democratic Labor Party.  The DLP cooperated with a united progressive ticket last April after Democratic Party chair, Sohn Hak-kyu, gave them a seat in Suncheon, a district in the South Jeolla province that Progressives always win.  However, the DLP have never stepped aside in a presidential election.  While DLP candidates have always gained only single-digit support in the presidential elections, that could be significant in a close election.

Perhaps some of the toughness that Moon has gained from his special forces training will come in handy.