South Korea election even moves the dead

Seoul, South Korea - As South Korea's presidential election draws near, corpses are on the move.

Most South Koreans believe that the location of a family's ancestral grave can determine their fortunes and politicians take this to heart, with several moving graves ahead of elections to places that fortune tellers say will help them get votes.

"Every individual's destiny is influenced by where that persons ancestors are buried," said Park Min-chan, an expert in "poongsoo", which is a belief that placing objects in a harmonious way with their surroundings will help tap into the mystical power of nature.

Park was called in a few months ago by one of the three top-ranked candidates running for the December 19 election to move the graves of nine ancestors in order to secure a good outcome in the vote.

"I selected a site on a mountain. The mountain resembles a person reading a book," Park said in an interview with Reuters this week.

Another candidate for the vote moved family plots in 2005, local media reported, while presidential front-runner Lee Myung-bak's ancestors are deemed to be at rest in an already favourable spot.

More graves are almost certain to be moved ahead of the April vote for seats in parliament.

Poongsoo is similar to the Chinese practise of feng shui and both mean "a reading of wind and water". Korean followers of poongsoo, however, place more emphasis on the arrangement of grave sites than followers of feng shui, Park said.

Local media reported that former President Kim Dae-jung, who failed twice to win an open election for the presidency called in a poongsoo expert and moved his ancestral graves. Two years later he won the presidential election.

Most Koreans call in a poongsoo expert to locate family plots and afterwards, they typically do not move them.

But since poongsoo was widely used by Korea's royal families to make sure their power passed through the generations, many South Koreans are willing to accept political leadership hopefuls moving graves to better their fortunes at the polls, Park said.

Ancestor worship is strong in the country, even among many of those who follow Christianity

According to South Korea's culture ministry, in 2005 some 53.1 percent of South Koreans said they had a religious affiliation. Among the overall population, 22.8 percent are Buddhist, 18.3 percent are Protestant, 10.0 are Roman Catholic, and less than 1 percent belong to a fringe sect.

Park has given advice to many South Korean politicians and could even lend a hand to U.S. presidential candidates and advise them where their relatives should be buried if they want to win more votes.

"A propitious site for a grave would be the centre of a form, such as a mountain shaped like an object. Bodies buried on such sites with forms can bring huge luck to the descendants," Park said.

(Additional reporting by Jessica Kim; Editing by David Fox)