Yoon Suk-yeol wins South Korean presidential election

Posted on : 2022-03-10 09:59 KST Modified on : 2022-03-10 09:59 KST
This year’s presidential race will go down as having the narrowest margin in Korea’s history of direct elections
President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol greets supporters outside his home in Seoul’s Seocho District in the early hours of March 10, 2022. (pool photo)
President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol greets supporters outside his home in Seoul’s Seocho District in the early hours of March 10, 2022. (pool photo)

Yoon Suk-yeol, candidate for the People Power Party, has been elected South Korea’s next president.

With 99.2% of valid votes tallied at 4:40 am on Thursday, Yoon had received 16.27 million votes, or 48.6% of the total, while his rival, Lee Jae-myung with the ruling Democratic Party, had received 16.01 million votes, or 47.8% of the total. Yoon’s electoral victory was confirmed with a 0.8-point lead. Sim Sang-jung, candidate for the minor progressive Justice Party, received 2.3% of the vote.

“The results today represent a victory of our great people,” Yoon said while visiting his election situation room at the National Assembly Library in Yeouido, Seoul, after the election was called.

This presidential election will go down in history as having the narrowest margin between the top two contestants. The previous record was Korea’s presidential election in 1997, when the winning candidate eked out a win by just 390,557 votes, representing a 1.53-point margin. In this election, Yoon only led Lee by just over 250,000 votes.

Lee led the count early on. But once more than half of the votes had been counted around 12:30 am, Yoon gained the lead and stayed on top for the rest of the count.

This presidential election was a close race throughout, with the outcome uncertain. The two candidates’ support was more resilient than in the past because of the intense divide between the conservative and progressive camps. That divide deepened as multiple points of conflict appeared during the race including the battles of the sexes, the generation gap, and party alignment.

Yoon’s foremost task is likely to be achieving national unity as he seeks to put the fractured nation back together again.

The fact that Yoon only won by such a narrow margin — even after unifying the opposition field by merging his campaign with that of Ahn Cheol-soo, head of the People’s Party, just six days before the election — means the public doesn’t definitively back either side.

Just five years after facing what looked like complete obliteration following the fiasco of former President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment, Korea’s conservatives — now rebranded as the People Power Party — have returned to the Blue House. That also ends the pattern of conservative and progressive administrations changing power every 10 years, a pattern that had persisted since Korea adopted direct presidential elections in 1987.

The outcome of this election holds an important lesson for the Democratic Party, which failed to remain in power. The party’s losses in by-elections for the Seoul and Busan mayoralties on April 7 last year showed that voters had turned their backs on the party, and they remained aloof in this election, too. Voters remain disappointed over the party’s botched attempt to rationalize the real estate market and its apparently hypocritical behavior, which traces back to the Cho Kuk scandal in 2019.

Despite holding a supermajority of 180 seats in the National Assembly, the Democratic Party failed to properly implement the reform agenda demanded by Koreans who turned out for the candlelight protests that brought down the Park administration in 2016. As a result, voters gave the presidency to the other side just five years later.

Yoon’s first act as president-elect will be paying his respects at Seoul National Cemetery, in Seoul’s Dongjak District, at 10 am Thursday. He’s expected to announce his basic plans and his philosophy of governance in a press conference at 11 am.

By Kim Mi-na, staff reporter; Oh Yeon-seo, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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