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Korea - 2022 - Presidential Election

South Korea’s presidential election, scheduled for March 9, 2022, emerged as a duel between Lee Jae-myung of the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and Yoon Seok-youl of the main opposition conservative People Power Party (PPP). Third-party candidates to the presidency, such as Sim Sang-jeung of the left-wing Justice Party and Ahn Cheol-soo of the centrist People’s Party, did not have nearly enough support to clinch the top role.

By August 2020 Koreans were starting to turn their backs on Moon and his party who were elected on a promise to end corruption and abuse of power - ills that have beset Korean governments since the country's successful transition towards democracy in 1987. The alarming decline in the public's support for Moon and the DP was a clear warning that Moon risked becoming a lame duck in the fourth year of his five-year presidency and in the lead-up to the April 2021 by-elections and the 2022 presidential election.

Just four months after winning the 15 April 2020 general election by a landslide, and securing 176 seats in the 300-seat National Assembly, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his governing Democratic Party (DP) are faced with an alarming change in public sentiment. In August 2020, for the first time since the 2016 political scandal that led to President Park Geun-hye's removal from office, the approval rating of the main opposition People Power Party (PPP, formerly known as United Future Party) surpassed that of the DP. In an August 13 Realmeter poll, 36.5 percent of the respondents expressed support for the PPP, compared with just 33.4 percent for the DP. Public support for President Moon also plummeted in recent weeks, with an August 14 Gallup Korea survey putting his personal approval rating at 39 percent - his lowest since October 2019, when his close ally Justice Minister Cho Kuk was forced to step down amid corruption allegations.

This drastic decline in public support for the president and the government illustrates not only the volatile nature of South Korea's democracy, but also the growing backlash against their attempts to make abuse of power the new norm in the country. Indeed, since their stunning election victory in April, President Moon and his party have repeatedly undermined the rule of law, ignored the procedures put in place to ensure the separation of powers, and made controversial moves to further their populist agenda and help their allies escape accountability.

On 08 April 2021 People Power Party candidates won the posts of Seoul and Busan mayors. Oh Se-hoon beat Park Young-sun by 18 percentage points. While Park Hyung-joon won by a 28-percent margin. It went as expected. The voter turnout rate for the Seoul mayoral by-election recorded 58.2 percent. Oh Se-hoon of the conservative opposition People Power Party beat Democratic Party candidate Park Young-sun by more than 18 percentage points. Oh garnered nearly 2.8 million, or 57.5 percent of the total votes. He won in all 25 districts in Seoul city. The turnout rate for the Busan mayoral by-election recorded 52.7 percent. Park Hyung-joon of the People Power Party garnered more than 62 percent of the total votes, beating his Democratic Party rival by a 28-percent margin. The gap between the two rival parties was larger in the Busan mayoral election. Park won in all 16 districts of the port-city.

The results of public polls conducted prior to the by-elections turned out to be quite accurate. Both candidates from the opposition party won the top posts of the nation's two largest cities. People Power Party candidates also won the posts of Uiryeong County governor and Ulsan's Nam-gu District chief, once again attesting to its unrivaled status in the traditionally conservative regions. The People Power Party won more than half of local council posts that were up for grabs in this year's by-elections four out of six posts for metropolitan council members and six out of nine posts in local councils. All seven posts in the Seoul metropolitan area and the Chungcheong region were also won by the opposition party.

The Democratic Party was shocked by the defeat but accepted the outcome. President Moon Jae-in called the ruling Democratic Party's defeat in the mayoral by-elections a reprimand from the public. He was quoted by the presidential spokesperson as saying "President Moon said he would carry on with his duties with a humble demeanor and with a heavier sense of responsibility. He would concentrate efforts to fulfill citizens' desperate demands such as overcoming COVID-19, revitalizing the economy, stabilizing people's livelihoods and rooting out real estate corruption."

Facing its new reality, there was speculation the administration could review some of its key policies, as well as carry out a Cabinet reshuffle in a bid to get some fresh momentum. Democratic Party's acting chief Kim Tae-nyeon apologized to supporters for causing disappointment and pledged to work harder to achieve better results in the future. The DP's leadership convened an emergency meeting, to discuss follow-up measures including the resignation of the party's top officials.

The leadership of the ruling Democratic Party stepped down. Acting chief and floor leader Kim Tae-nyeon said the party humbly accepts public sentiment and pledged to work towards innovating the party. In the meantime, until new leadership is elected the party would be led by an emergency committee. "The people, in this election, have given the Democratic Party a lot of tasks to do. We will reflect deeply, and make efforts to innovate. We will also rectify issues of fairness and justice within the party until the people are satisfied."

Having witnessed the constituency’s change of heart, President Moon Jae-in released a humble statement about the election results. Kang Min-ceok(Cheong Wa Dae Spokesman) : "President Moon gravely accepts the people’s reprimand. He said he would handle state affairs with a humbler attitude and heavier sense of responsibility."

The president reportedly said that he would work hard on realizing the people’s desperate demands, such as overcoming the pandemic, reviving the economy, stabilizing individuals' financial situation and rooting out corrupt real estate deals. When asked about the potential changes in policies, however, the spokesman did not offer a direct answer but just a theoretical one of doing his best to earn the public's trust. But since the public outrage was demonstrated in the lopsided election results, the president is certain to face some difficulty in pushing his projects. He is therefore expected to quickly overhaul the cabinet to make a fresh start.

The cabinet shakeup was likely to take place when Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun returned from his visit to Iran. Those likely to be replaced include Prime Minister Chung, who essentially announced his bid for next year’s presidential election, Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki, long-serving ministers of energy and employment as well as land and infrastructure minister Byeon Chang-heum whose resignation had been accepted earlier. But more ministry chiefs may be ousted. A unifying figure from the Yeongnam region or an economic bureaucrat is sounded out for the next prime minister. There is even a possibility that a woman may be named as prime minister. Personnel change could even extend to presidential advisors.

But Cheong Wa Dae said no chief advisors had offered to step down yet. President Moon seemed to have made it clear that he would make no big changes in government operation. Nonetheless, experts point out that the president would have to make some extensive changes in real estate measures and other policies if he wants to gain momentum in running the country.

On 18 June 2021 Former Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun officially declared he would run in the presidential election, vowing to become a president for the economy who would open the era of 40,000 dollars in gross national income. He is the fifth presidential candidate from the ruling bloc, following lawmaker Park Yong-jin, Chungcheongnam-do Governor Yang Seung-jo, Representative Lee Kwang-jae and Gangwon-do Governor Choi Moon-soon. The former PM said that resolving inequality is the zeitgeist of the time. He cited real estate ownership and the wage gap as the major examples of inequality and promised to build a coexisting labor market where workers are not discriminated against.

Former Democratic Party leader Lee Nak-yon planned to announce his own run for presidency later in June. Lawmakers supporting Lee and Chung demanded that the general assembly be convened to officially discuss the deferment of the primaries. Gyeonggi-do Governor Lee Jae-myung started courting supporters of President Moon Jae-in. He met with Gyeongsangnam-do Governor Kim Kyung-soo, a well-known pro-Moon insider, and agreed to solve the problem of population and housing concentration in the capital region.

Former Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl was also expected to announce the start of his political career. But People Power Party leader Lee Jun-seok said Yoon looks like an amateur and is not ready, so he should join the party to get help. However, Yoon vowed to do only what he set out to do and deal with political issues dictated by the people while promising to not respond to any attacks from the ruling and opposition parties.

A July 2021 survey showed that the ruling Democratic Party's(DP) two leading presidential hopefuls beat former Prosecutor-General Yoon Seok-youl in a hypothetical two-candidate race. In the poll conducted by Hangil Research on one-thousand-15 adults between Saturday and Sunday and announced on Monday, Gyeonggi Governor Lee Jae-myung garnered 44 percent of support against Yoon's 34-point-nine percent. The difference, nine-point-one percentage points, is outside of the margin of error. In another hypothetical two-way race, former DP Chair Lee Nak-yon also led Yoon, albeit within the margin of error, with 41-point-five percent of support to Lee's 37-point-eight percent.

In a multi-way race, Governor Lee led all others at 27-point-one percent, while Yoon and former DP Chair Lee trailed at 19-point-seven percent and 14-point-six percent, respectively. Former Board of Audit and Inspection head Choe Jae-hyeong came in fourth with four-point-eight percent of support, followed by major opposition People Power Party lawmaker Hong Joon-pyo at three-point-nine percent, former Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae at two-point-nine percent and People’s Party chief Ahn Cheol-soo at two-point-eight percent.

South Korea's ruling Democratic Party that supports President Moon Jae-in was scheduled to select its presidential candidate in early October 2021. The six contenders include Lee Jae-myung, who is the governor of Gyeonggi Province outside Seoul, and former prime minister and party leader Lee Nak-yon. The outcome of the vote that would take place by region would decide the candidate for the presidential election scheduled for next March.

A survey released by Gallup Korea on 03 September 2021 showed Lee Jae-myung had the highest support at 24 percent as the person most suitable to be the next president. The figure is 16 percentage points higher than that of Lee Nak-yon.

Fifteen contestants, including former prosecutor general Yoon Seok-youl who resigned due to being at odds with Moon's administration, are running in the presidential race of the main opposition People Power Party. The party is scheduled to decide on its candidate on 05 November 2021.

Ahn Cheol-soo, the head of a South Korean centrist opposition party declared his candidacy for the country's presidential election on 01 November 2021. He criticized the liberal and conservative political parties that have continued to seize power in turns and have created a social divide. He said, "In order to exit this vicious cycle that repeats every five years, it's time to turn over the table." He added that South Korea needs a president who can create a better Korea, and a president who can kick-start a new era.

Ahn began his political carrier after launching an IT firm and serving as a university professor. When the coronavirus began to spread in the country, he provided medical support by working as a volunteer doctor. He has made bids for the presidency in the past. In 2017, he finished third in the race.

The upcoming election emerged as a neck-and-neck contest between the ruling Democratic Party's candidate, Lee Jae-myung, and the conservative People Power Party's candidate Yoon Seok-youl. A nationwide poll conducted by the Korea Society Opinion Institute over Dec 10-11, for example, determined that Yoon had an approval rating of 42 percent against Lee’s 40.6 percent (with the 1.4 percent difference between the candidates being well within the poll’s +/- 3.1 percent margin of error). Meanwhile, in a Channel A poll conducted on December 1, more than 50 percent of respondents said they disliked both Lee and Yoon.

Yet neither Lee, nor Yoon is offering South Koreans a clear vision for the future of the country – most importantly, they do not seem to have concrete policy proposals to protect South Korean livelihoods amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, they are spending most of their energy on attacking each other – the two candidates have repeatedly accused each other of corruption and even suggested that their rival “will go to jail” after the election. Lee, former governor of Gyeonggi Province, has been linked to a massive land development scandal there. Yoon, meanwhile, is alleged to have engaged in political meddling while serving as prosecutor-general.

Possible alliances Lee and Yoon may form with third-party candidates is another factor that can help determine the outcome of the election. Indeed, if the race remains as tight as it is now in the new year, third-party candidates can become kingmakers by putting their support behind Yoon or Lee. Lee would likely seek the support of Justice Party’s Sim, and Yoon that of People’s Party’s Ahn. But as both third-party candidates started their campaigns with the aim of shaking the two main parties’ dominance in the election, formation of any such alliance is less than certain.

South Koreans, especially young voters, want a leader who would increase social mobility and bring an end to their financial struggles. They also want a leader who would end corruption and make South Korean society more just and fair. Many voters believed neither Yoon nor Lee can be that leader.

Leading up to South Korea's Presidential Election on March 9th the first televised debate between the presidential candidates from the two major parties would be held in January. The debate would be between former Gyeonggi-do provincial governor Lee Jae-myung from the ruling Democratic Party and former prosecutor general Yoon Suk-yeol from the People Power Party. This comes as the two parties reached an agreement that the debate would be held before the Lunar New Year holiday which starts on January 29th. It would be hosted by one of the country's three major broadcasting networks with a range of current state affairs to be covered. This is separate from the three rounds of debates required by law which are hosted by the National Election Broadcasting Debate Commission.

All indications suggest that YOUNG VOTERS -- aged 18 to 39 will be a deciding factor in the upcoming presidential election. While they account for roughly one-third of voters, NEARLY 30 percent of them are SWING VOTERS -- who don't support any political party. The number is significantly high compared to seniors nearly ALL of whom have a clear political preference. Many of these swing voters haven't made up their minds. Or could change their minds at any time.

Polls show, there are more FEMALE SWING VOTERS than males. They can't easily decide because they are hesitant to support the Democratic Party due to sexual assault scandals surrounding the party in the past. They can't go for the opposition People Power Party either as they tend to be oriented toward males.

Rather than making their decisions. based on the political party, these young people make their decisions. based on POLICIES. And they go for those. that reflect THEIR INTERESTS the most. Their biggest interest is buying a house. followed by making more money and getting jobs. Environmental protection and unification between the two Koreas. were among the least important. In other words, they are looking for "a president who makes THEIR LIVES better". Swing voters in general. ALSO seem to care about the PERSONAL ISSUES surrounding candidates.

The Ruling Democratic Party presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung was most recently the Governor of South Korea's most populous Province of Gyeonggi-do. He began his political career in 2010 as the mayor of Seongnam City and before that was a lawyer. But Lee worked in factories during his teens and still has an arm injury from that time. He earned his school diplomas through the Korean version of the GED before studying law at college. He's now known for his direct and sometimes fierce way with words. "This election will decide whether to return to the past or move forward."

Lee won the primaries in the first round beating the likes of former Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon. Now he faced challenges such as the recent polls showing the majority want to change the ruling party the rumors over his involvement in the Daejang-dong land development scandal and his use of abusive language toward his family members.

The main opposition People Power Party candidate Yoon Suk-yeol had been a prosecutor all his life, having "loyalty to law, not people" as he once said. He was appointed as the Prosecutor General for leading the investigations into the corruption scandal that led to former President Park Geun-hye's impeachment. But Yoon decided to resign over the intensifying feud with the current government triggered by his investigations into former Justice Minister Cho Kuk. And later, he decided to run for president.

"The people have given us, me and the party, a critical mission to change the administration." Despite lacking political experience, Yoon won the PPP's nomination. Now, the political novice will have to use the debate to show he has the ability to handle state affairs and clear up family scandals.

The Justice Party presidential candidate Sim Sang-jung is a 4-time member of South Korea's National Assembly. As a university student in the mid-1980s she jumped into labor rights movements when South Korea was experiencing a fast economic boom, and many blue-collar workers were left without protection. Now a leader for the country's progressive party she is vocal on issues such as LGBTQ rights and protecting the environment. "There are times when a person who isn't from a big party but who has kept their belief for 20 years is needed."

On her path this time, she narrowly beat her competitor and the party's former leader Lee Jeong-mi. During the last Presidential Election in 2017, despite earning the most votes by a progressive party in recent times at 6.1-7 percent she came last among the five major candidates.

The minor opposition People's Party candidate Ahn Cheol-soo was a medical doctor and then an IT CEO who made antivirus software. Later as a professor and mentor, Ahn gained popularity among the younger generations, paving the way for him to enter politics. His first bid was in 2012 as an independent candidate but he dropped out in the middle to support another candidate. But Ahn says that will not be the case this time. "I'm running in this election to become the president myself and to transition into leading a new administration." But, unless his ratings go up drastically, observers say, the possibility of another alliance between Ahn and Yoon as a single conservative candidate, will be a key topic in the debates.

On 03 March 2022 Ahn Cheol-soo from the People's Party decided to throw his weight behind candidate Yoon Suk-yeol from the People Power Party. "I solemnly promise in front of everybody that we will both work for a successful future for South Korea and a united government. I, Ahn Cheol-soo have decided to support candidate Yoon Suk-yeol." After the election, they're also planning to merge their two parties, the People Power Party and the People's Party. With days before polling, there was a neck-and-neck race between Yoon Suk-yeol and Lee Jae-myung. And the conservative bloc needed some momentum ahead of early voting. There's a lot at stake in the election's early voting with daily infections to top 230-thousand by Election Day and not everyone who is infected with COVID-19 is willing to vote. It's especially important for Yoon -- as those in their 20s -- who lean more towards Yoon -- show the lowest percentage of voters willing to vote while being infected. The general consensus was that the merger will play in favor of Yoon.

In the 2022 Presidential race in South Korea one candidate had a clear lead according to the National Election Commission - Yoon Suk-yeol of the main opposition People Power Party. The former Prosecutor General was in a neck and neck race throughout the ruling Democratic Party's Lee Jae-myung. When slightly more than half the ballots were counted nationwide, finally Yoon clinched a razor thin lead. Local networks called Yoon Suk-yeol of the main opposition People Power Party as South Korea's 20th President. After months of drama, scandals, and mudslinging in what some foreign media have coined the "Squid Game election," the conservative People Power Party candidate Yoon Suk-yeol emerged victorious in a tight contest. Yoon won by a razor-thin margin of eight-tenths of a percent over his Democratic Party rival Lee Jae-myung.

Yoon’s victory is a remarkable achievement when considering the conservative party’s ignoble defeat just five years ago. Marred by major scandals, the last conservative president, Park Geun-hye was impeached back in 2017 following a wave of candlelight protests demanding her resignation. Park's downfall split the conservative party into at least three different camps. Yoon’s slim margin of victory - and the fact that nearly half the country voted for his Democratic Party opponent - may make it difficult for the president-elect to mobilize the support needed to successfully implement key domestic campaign pledges.

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Page last modified: 11-03-2022 17:10:54 ZULU