South Korea opposition set for landslide in parliamentary election

Published April 10, 2024
South Korean voters sent a loud and angry message to President Yoon Suk Yeol on Wednesday. —FP
South Korean voters sent a loud and angry message to President Yoon Suk Yeol on Wednesday. —FP

South Korea’s opposition was heading towards a landslide victory on Wednesday in parliamentary elections, exit polls indicated, in a major blow to President Yoon Suk Yeol.

The outcome if confirmed will at the very least leave Yoon as a lame duck for the three remaining years of his term in office, and could even open the way for his impeachment.

The Democratic Party (DP) of Lee Jae-myung — survivor of a January knife attack by a disgruntled voter — and its satellites are forecast to win as many as 197 seats, up from 156 in the last parliament.

Yoon’s People Power Party (PPP) and its partner were projected to be trailing on between 85 to 99 seats, down from 114, the exit polls conducted by three major broadcasters indicated.

All opposition parties combined may even have secured a super-majority of 200 in the 300-seat parliament, which could in theory allow them to attempt to remove Yoon from office before his term ends in 2027.

That includes the new Rebuilding Korea party, led by former justice minister Cho Kuk, which capitalised on discontent with the two main parties to pick up a projected 12-14 seats.

“The people have won, the will to judge the Yoon Suk Yeol administration is very clear,” Cho said after the vote, local media reported.

Lee Jae-myung speaks to reporters after watching TVs broadcasting exit poll results that showed a major victory for his Democratic Party. —Chung Sung-Jun/Pool/AFP
Lee Jae-myung speaks to reporters after watching TVs broadcasting exit poll results that showed a major victory for his Democratic Party. —Chung Sung-Jun/Pool/AFP

On the campaign trail, he vowed to make Yoon “first a lame duck, then a dead duck”.

“The figures today show the strong anger of people at Yoon for his two-year governance,” political analyst Yum Seung-yul told AFP.

“What if he won’t change even with this stunning election outcome? I think there will be even more public anger and that worries me.”

Lee’s revenge

Yoon beat Lee in South Korea’s closest-ever presidential election in 2022 and has taken a tough line with the nuclear-armed North while improving ties with Washington and former colonial occupier Japan.

But Lee, while fending off a slew of graft probes he says are politically motivated, has secured revenge with the election result following a bruising and polarising campaign.

“I’ll watch the people’s choice with a humble heart,” Lee said after the vote, local media reported.

From the start of his presidency, Yoon has been unpopular, with ratings hitting the low 30s, and the PPP’s lack of control of the National Assembly stymying his socially conservative legislative agenda.

This includes planned healthcare reforms — that are backed by voters but have sparked a crippling strike by doctors — and a pledge to abolish the ministry of gender equality.

PPP leader Han Dong-hoon said that “exit polls are disappointing… We will watch the vote count”, the Yonhap News Agency reported.

No babies

On Yoon’s side were shifting demographics, with voters aged 60 and older now outnumbering those in both their 20s and 30s in a country with the world’s lowest birth rate.

Younger Koreans have been put off politics by a political class dominated by older men who ignore their concerns.

Many say this was underlined by the horrific 2022 Halloween crowd crush in Seoul that killed more than 150 mostly young people.

The younger generation is also struggling economically, with cut-throat competition in education, fewer job opportunities and sky-high housing costs.

Exit polls projected the Rebuilding Korea Party of Cho Kuk (C) to take as many as 14 seats in parliament. —Jung Yeon-je /AFP
Exit polls projected the Rebuilding Korea Party of Cho Kuk (C) to take as many as 14 seats in parliament. —Jung Yeon-je /AFP

“There is definitely less interest in this election among the people around me than last time. I think it is because they feel rather disappointed,” business owner Kim Yong-ho, 24, said outside a polling station in Seoul’s Gwangjin district.

The tone of the campaigning has also put many voters off, lacking in substantive policy debate and marked instead by shrill calls to “imprison” Lee or “punish” Yoon.

“I am truly ashamed of our country’s politics and government,” Kim Do-kyung, 47, an activist for migrant women and their children, told AFP.

This has been accompanied by hate speech and disinformation online that experts worry could lead to more attacks like the one on Lee in January and another weeks later.

Onions

The DP favours a less hawkish approach towards Pyongyang, and Lee has made a number of pro-China remarks. One doctored video showed him bowing to a statue of Mao Zedong.

It has also latched onto a gaffe by Yoon last month about the “reasonable” cost of green onions, a staple in Korean cooking that has soared in price.

The humble vegetable became a popular prop at DP rallies, and the election commission even banned voters from bringing them to polling stations.

The first official results were expected later on Wednesday.

Opinion

Editorial

Debt trap
Updated 30 May, 2024

Debt trap

The task before the government is to boost its tax-to-GDP ratio to the global average by taxing the economy’s untaxed and undertaxed sectors.
Foregone times
30 May, 2024

Foregone times

THE past, as they say, is a foreign country. It seems that the PML-N’s leadership has chosen to live there. Nawaz...
Margalla fires
30 May, 2024

Margalla fires

THE Margalla Hills — the sprawling 12,605-hectare national park — were once again engulfed in flames, with 15...
First steps
Updated 29 May, 2024

First steps

One hopes that this small change will pave the way for bigger things.
Rafah inferno
29 May, 2024

Rafah inferno

THE level of barbarity witnessed in Sunday’s Israeli air strike targeting a refugee camp in Rafah is shocking even...
On a whim
29 May, 2024

On a whim

THE sudden declaration of May 28 as a public holiday to observe Youm-i-Takbeer — the anniversary of Pakistan’s...