Opposition Parties Expected to Secure Landslide Victory in South Korea’s Parliamentary Election

April 11, 2024 by No Comments

Initial exit polls conducted for South Korea’s parliamentary election suggest a landslide victory for the liberal opposition. Should these results be confirmed, President Yoon Suk Yeol, a conservative, will essentially become a lame duck for his three remaining years in office.The joint exit polls from KBS, MBC, and SBS, three major South Korean television networks, predict the main opposition Democratic Party and its satellite party securing 178-197 out of 300 seats in the National Assembly. Another new liberal opposition party is projected to win 12-14 seats.In contrast, the ruling People Power Party and its satellite party are projected to win only 85-105 seats.The election on Wednesday was largely viewed as a midterm confidence vote on President Yoon, a former top prosecutor who took office in 2022 for a single five-year term.Yoon has advocated for boosting as a means of addressing a combination of formidable security and economic challenges. However, he has faced low approval ratings within the country and a liberal opposition-controlled parliament that has limited his major policy platforms.Regardless of the results, Yoon will remain in power and his main foreign policies are likely to remain unchanged. However, the ruling party’s significant election loss could hinder Yoon’s domestic agenda and subject him to intensifying political attacks from his liberal opponents.If the opposition parties garner a combined total of 200 seats—two-thirds of the 300 parliamentary seats in play—or more, they will have the legislative authority to pass bills vetoed by the president and can even impeach him.”We made every effort to engage in politics that aligned with public sentiment, but the exit poll results are disheartening,” said Han Dong-hoon, a member of the ruling party, in televised remarks. “We will monitor the ballot counting until its conclusion.”Upon viewing the exit poll results on television, Democratic Party members cheered and applauded. “We will humbly observe the public’s choices until the very end. Thank you very much!” party leader Lee Jae-myung told reporters.Of the 300 seats, 254 will be filled through direct votes in local districts, while the remaining 46 will be allocated to parties based on their share of the vote. The final voter turnout for is tentatively estimated at 67%, the highest for a parliamentary election since 1992, according to the National Election Commission.Ahead of the election, the conservatives and their liberal rivals traded toxic rhetoric and accusations. Their mutual contempt intensified during the 2022 presidential election, in which Yoon and Lee, who was the Democratic Party candidate at the time, spent months demonizing each other. Yoon ultimately prevailed over Lee in the country’s most tightly contested presidential race.Lee has since become a staunch critic of Yoon’s policies and is considering another presidential bid. His main potential conservative rival in the next presidential race is Han, an ally of Yoon who served as his justice minister. Lee is facing a series of corruption investigations that he contends are politically motivated and orchestrated by Yoon’s government.There was a brief period of introspection about South Korea’s divisive politics after Lee was stabbed in the neck in January by a man who, according to police, attempted to kill Lee to prevent him from becoming president. However, as the parliamentary election approached, the rival parties resumed their abusive rhetoric and vulgar insults.During the election campaign, Han referred to Lee as “a criminal” and labeled his past remarks as “trash.” Lee’s party spokesperson described Han’s mouth as a “trash bin.” Han accused Lee of making a sexist remark against a female ruling party candidate.Chung Jin-young, a former dean of the Graduate School of Pan-Pacific International Studies at Kyung Hee University, predicted that the opposition parties could win a combined 150-180 seats.”That would lead to a political impasse for the Republic of Korea for the next three years, as neither the ruling nor opposition parties could unilaterally pursue their agendas and are unlikely to reach compromises with each other,” Chung said.Earlier this year, Yoon experienced a rise in approval ratings due to his forceful push to dramatically increase the number of medical students, despite vehement protests from practicing doctors. Yoon has stated that he aims to train more doctors to prepare for the country’s rapidly aging population, but thousands of young doctors have gone on strike, arguing that schools cannot accommodate such a sudden influx of students.The doctors’ strikes ultimately left Yoon facing public disapproval, as patients and others experienced delays in surgeries and other inconveniences. Yoon’s ruling party has also been grappling with rising prices for agricultural products and other goods, as well as criticism of Yoon’s personnel management style.”This election serves as an evaluation of Yoon’s presidency. The stakes for him are whether he will be able to fully implement his liberal democratic agenda, which is his top priority,” said Duyeon Kim, a senior analyst at the Washington-based Center for a New American Security. “He and his party have criticized the previous progressive party for democratic backsliding.”