Winner by a razor-thin margin . . .
Yesterday, Yoon Seok-yeol of the People Power Party (PPP) defeated his opponent, Lee Jae-myung of the ruling liberal Democratic Party of Korea (DPK), to become South Korea’s next president. With only 0.73 percentage points – or 247,077 votes – separating Yoon and Lee, this year’s presidential election was the closest in the country’s history. In the days leading up to the election, the two main candidates were neck and neck in the polls, but Yoon’s last-minute political merger with third-party candidate Ahn Cheol-soo may have helped him secure a narrow victory for the conservative camp. In a speech on Thursday, President-elect Yoon emphasized national unity and the restoration of justice and fairness. Yoon will take office on May 10, 2022.
A divided electorate complicates policy-making . . .
This year’s election results mirrored South Korea’s traditional regional divides, with both conservative and liberal camps maintaining support in their respective strongholds. Generational and gender differences were also apparent, especially among the youngest segment of voters. According to exit polls, the majority of men in their twenties and younger voted for Yoon, while young women gravitated toward Lee. Many fear that Yoon’s anti-feminist rhetoric and promise to abolish a ministry focused on gender equality will further marginalize women in South Korea. While Yoon has made big promises on housing and job creation, especially to young voters, the inexperienced prosecutor-turned-politician will have to contend with a National Assembly dominated by the DPK.
South Korea’s international re-set . . .
Yoon Seok-yeol’s election is expected to bring significant changes to South Korean foreign policy. The new administration will expand co-operation with the U.S., including supporting Washington’s Indo-Pacific strategy and security arrangements such as the Quad, and closer alignment on dealing with North Korea. U.S. President Joe Biden was the first foreign leader to congratulate Yoon, and the two may hold their first summit talks as early as late May. Yoon promised to make greater efforts to mend relations with Japan and improve trilateral co-ordination among the three allies. Yoon will also take a tougher stance against Beijing, a position that reflects growing negative public sentiments towards China, a departure from the outgoing administration’s efforts to keep an equal distance between the two superpowers.