| 20 April 2024, Saturday |

S.Korea elects conservative outsider as president in tectonic shift

On a wave of frustration over economic policies, scandals, and gender conflicts, conservative South Korean opposition candidate Yoon Suk-yeol won a close presidential election, altering the political destiny of Asia’s fourth-largest economy.

His triumph in Wednesday’s bruising election is a dramatic reversal for the dominant conservative party, now known as the People Power Party, which has reassembled since President Park Geun-impeachment hye’s and removal in 2017.

Yoon is a former prosecutor-general engaged in Park’s case who had a falling out with outgoing President Moon Jae-in after being appointed by him and became well-known for his probes against senior presidential advisers.

In a statement about his work as a prosecutor, Yoon remarked, “The people placed me here with hope in my belief that I have not bowed to any authority for fairness and justice for 26 years.”

Yoon has promised to fight corruption, promote justice, and level the playing field in the economy, all while pursuing a “reset” with China and a stronger posture against secretive North Korea, which has conducted a record number of missile launches in recent months.

He must unite a country of 52 million people torn apart by gender and generational differences, rising inequality, and skyrocketing housing prices.

“Real estate pricing, housing policy, jobs, and tax policies will be at the top of his domestic agenda,” according to Duyeon Kim, expert with the Center for a New American Security.

Yoon will have to rebuild public faith in Korea’s institutions, she noted, and is likely to do so by carrying out a campaign promise to probe Moon’s government for corruption.

Yoon, 61, defeated Lee Jae-myung of the governing Democratic Party’s centre-left bloc to succeed Moon, whose single five-year term expires in May.

Yoon’s lack of elected political experience was both viewed as a disadvantage and a strength.

While his campaign was marred by gaffes and scandal, the election turned into a referendum on Moon’s economic policies, which included everything from employment to housing to wealth disparity.

With Yoon anticipated to speed up deregulation in South Korea’s capital markets, the benchmark KOSPI (.KS11) surged more than 2%, the greatest daily advance in at least three months.

The election was one of the most closely contested in recent memory, following an extremely acrimonious campaign marked by scandals and attacks. As scandals, mudslinging, and gaffes dominated what was nicknamed the “unlikeable election,” both candidates’ disapproval ratings mirrored their popularity.

Lee’s death puts doubt on Moon’s legacy, particularly his trademark attempts to engage North Korea, which have been mostly halted since talks broke down in 2019.

Pyongyang looks to be ready to launch a spy satellite and has signaled it may restart testing of long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles or nuclear weapons for the first time since 2017. The incoming president will almost certainly confront an almost immediate crisis with Pyongyang.

Yoon was praised by the White House, which stated that President Joe Biden looked forward to working closely with him to further the partnership.

Yoon and Biden spoke via phone on Thursday, according to the White House.

“On North Korea, China, and regional and global concerns, we can anticipate the alliance to work more smoothly and be in line for the most part,” said Kim of the Center for a New American Security.

Fumio Kishida, Japan’s prime minister, congratulated Yoon on his victory and expressed his desire to work closely with him to repair the country’s strained ties with its neighbor, which date back to Japan’s 1910-1945 colonization of Korea.

Despite a record number of new COVID-19 cases this week, more than 77 percent of South Korea’s 44 million eligible voters cast ballots to elect their next leader.

Yoon stated that he will collaborate with opposing parties in order to mend polarized politics and promote harmony.

“For the time being, our competition is done,” he stated in his victory speech, thanking and comforting Lee and his competitors. “For the sake of the people and the country, we must join hands and unify as one.”

Yoon declared at a separate ceremony with supporters that “national unity” will be his main concern, and that everyone should be treated equally despite of their geographical, political, or financial disparities.

Lee apologized for his loss and complimented his opponent. On Thursday, the Democratic leadership, including the party’s chairman, resigned, accepting responsibility for the outcome.

“I tried my hardest, but I fell short of your expectations,” Lee said during a press conference, citing his “flaws.”

  • Reuters