GP Short Notes # 621, 13 March 2022
On 10 March, Yoon Suk-yeol of the People Power Party was elected as the new President of the Republic of Korea. Yoon secured 48.5 per cent of the vote, just 0.7 per cent ahead of his main rival of the ruling Democratic Party, Lee Jae-myung.
Yoon pledged to honor the spirit of the Constitution and the National Assembly and promised to cooperate with the ruling party to “better serve the people”. He said:It was a heated race, and I learned many things while campaigning. I believe the election result is a great victory of the people, rather than a victory of myself, the PPP, Ahn Cheol-soo and the People's Party.”
What is the background?
First, the brief history of electoral politics in South Korea. Even though South Korea is considered one of the most successful new democracies, the party system has developed differently. A competitive party system has not emerged in South Korea. In 1987, South Korea conducted its first free and fair presidential election featuring a female candidate. Electoral politics was ruled mainly by pointing out shortcomings of the ruling government and offering better alternatives for the issues faced by the people. Since 2002, the electoral campaigns have always focused on a few primary objectives such as economic and social progress, youth unemployment, gender equality, etc. On the foreign policy front, the issues discussed are North Korea, China, and the US.
Second, major issues of election 2022. Real estate and housing prices dominated the elections. Since Moon Jae-in took over the office, one of his top priorities was to stabilize the housing market, which largely failed, leaving the public hoping for a better administration. The presidential candidates focused on campaigning about policy reforms in the real estate sector. Gender equality was also the highlight of the elections. About foreign policy, the leaders were vocal regarding the push for diplomacy with Pyongyang, repairing ties with Japan and scepticism regarding the intensifying US-China rivalry.
Third, the offensive election campaign. The campaigning period of the 20th presidential election in South Korea is described as “the ugliest presidential election ever.” The two leading candidates focused on slamming, demonizing and mocking each other. Yoon accused Lee of being involved in a land development scandal and Lee countered with allegations connecting PPP and Yoon with shamanism. The offences were further mounted by raising scandals targeting the candidates’ families. The campaigns revealed the greater differences in the public sentiment and the increasing polarization among the voters. This also showed that neither of the leaders focused on addressing the social, economic and diplomatic issues other than engaging in political revenge.
What does this mean?
First, the decline in satisfaction with the power distribution system. The electoral results show that the public support for the presidential candidates is right or left based on the ideological spectrum. It displays the political compromise made by the people. Due to the lack of experience of the presidential candidates, the voters seem to have chosen the lesser of two evils.
Second, the myriad of challenges for Yoon. As the new President Yoon takes power in May he will be put into a new set of challenges. Without a clear majority, he has the responsibility of bringing in the liberals and the ideological neutral sector of the society for a stable presidency. The dynamic political landscape of South Korean politics does not overhaul the progressiveness of the country. It has made major strides in growing its brand power and is the tenth-largest economy globally.