Korean Presidential Election

Written by: Kyler

Edited by: Chris

Visual by: Tatiana

South Korea has an extensive history of polarizing feuds between the conservative People Power Party and liberal Democratic Party. In fact, Korean politics have been plagued by irreconcilable historical perspectives, disparaging insults thrown at opponents, and vicious conflicts between politicians and supporters alike since the beginning of its democracy. 

The 2022 Korean Presidential Election was nothing different. It did, however, end with an especially narrow ballot, with conservative Yoon Suk Yeol, former top prosecutor, amassing 48.6% percent of votes, and left-leaning opposition Lee Jae Myung garnering 47.8% percent. Political commentator Kim Min-ha lamented over the election, stating that “unlike in the past, when there was [at least] fighting over a cause or for an ideology, this campaign has focused more on personal attacks.” She even asserted that this was the worst election ever, and other media outlets concurred, emphasizing the unpopularity of both candidates which resulted in the election being termed the “election of the unfavorables.” In Yoon’s case, this was largely due to his lack of experience in party politics and keystate affairs; but he rebutted this by stating that he would allow more experienced officials to handle those matters. This may have cumulatively contributed to the seeming indecision of the Korean population.

In their electoral campaigns, the candidates proposed different solutions to the challenges facing the tenth largest national economy in the world. Korea is still coping with many lingering problems, such as exponentially rising youth unemployment rates and housing prices. Furthermore, as with many nations, the domestic economy took a hit due to the pandemic. To add more salt to the wound, the highly transmissible Omicron variant aggravated the election by shifting more emphasis from political beliefs to solutions to the pandemic, and by extension, the economy too.

Yoon opted in favor of a more targeted approach to the pandemic by sending stimulus packages to those in more desperate need so as to not amplify national debt, which had been further exacerbated by the onset of the pandemic. The liberal Lee approached the issue with a more holistic view, even accommodating for those peripherally affected by the pandemic by providing cash handouts to the entire population, attempting to leverage the employment, and income rates. 

Critics further posited that the candidates’ hazy strategy on military defense against North Korea contributed to the close vote. Yoon spotlighted North Korea attempting to steer voters in favor of Lee, who took a more proactive stance on the issue of North Korea’s most recent reported ballistic missile launch. Unlike his opponent, Yoon suggested that foreign relations were the solution, aiming to strengthen alliances with the United States.

As the elected president, Yoon has stated that he aspires to strengthen national unity, which aligns with the collectivist archetype of Korean society. Despite this, Yoon’s nascent tenure as president is not without its controversies, such as moving from the Blue House (the official residence of South Korea’s head of state) to the Korean National Defense Center, an act that opposes opinions displayed in the polls. Only time will tell what kind of leader Yoon will be, whether he will truly be a national uniter, and how his actions will affect Korea in the long term.