President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol speaks at the disbandment of his campaign headquarters on March 10 following his election win. (pool photo)
A mere 247,077 votes, or 0.73 percentage points.
This was the razor-thin margin that separated the winner from the loser in South Korea’s presidential election Wednesday. The South Korean electorate didn’t give their full support to either of the main candidates on March 9, instead voting in a way that made for a nail-biting night more exhilarating than any drama you could find on TV. With both candidates failing to present strong visions for how they would govern the country, voters appear to have sent both sides a warning with this election.
A look at the voting patterns shows that voters seem anxious that a landslide victory for Yoon could mean much bolder, reckless action from him in office.
“As citizens watched Russia invade Ukraine, they realized that security and peace issues were not simply issues related to aid,” noted Kim Yoon-cheol, a professor at Kyung Hee University. “However, looking at Yoon, it seems that [voters] gave up expectations that he would be able to properly govern on his own without reaching across the aisle,” Kim added.
With North Korea firing missiles nine times this year already and Russia invading Ukraine, uncertainties regarding international security and the global economy are mounting. However, instead of suggesting alternatives and solutions during his election campaign, Yoon characterized the government and the ruling party as “activist forces” — thoughtless, anachronistic, and conspiratorial remarks that hearken back to McCarthyism.
Some also point out that the election outcome also was a warning directed at People Power Party leader Lee Jun-seok’s tactics of fanning the gender war and his politics of arrogance through which he sneers at those who don’t see eye-to-eye with him.
When campaigning was in its early stages and conservative media promoted Lee’s marketing strategy aimed at men in their 20s as a welcome change in conservative politics, the sentiments of Korean women had yet to come to the fore.
But as the People Power Party’s gender antagonism became more blatant as the campaign drew on, and when, on numerous occasions, Yoon signaled that had no plans to disavow the tactic, anxious women in their 20s and 30s started flocking to Lee Jae-myung’s camp.
“This goes to show that arrogant politics fueled by hatred cannot succeed,” said Kim Min-ha, a political commentator. “If [Yoon’s camp] doesn’t give up these kinds of unsuccessful political strategies and continues with them, then in five years, the Democrats will be back in the Blue House.”
To this point, Kim Yoon-cheol added, “It’s part of Korean sentiment to abhor the arrogance that accompanies power, and Lee Jun-seok really pushed those buttons.”
On the other hand, despite receiving overwhelming support from women in their 20s and 30s and from the Honam region, the Democratic Party and Lee Jae-myung also failed to secure more votes due to their failure to provide a compelling vision or strategy to overcome the opposition’s calls to put a new party in the Blue House.
In particular, Lee failed to come up with satisfactory resolutions to the problems of the current administration, particularly President Moon Jae-in’s sidestepping of responsibility and overly passive stance regarding the probe into former Justice Minister Cho Kuk and the conflict between the former Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae and the then-Prosecutor General Yoon. Lee also failed to make it clear to voters how a Lee presidency would differ from Moon’s.
The Democratic Party realized and apologized for their mistakes, but it was too late by that point. Lee appealed to voters by promising to make his government different from Moon’s but failed to shore up enough support as a result of the many personal controversies he was embroiled in.
“Lee was considered a politician who could break through the problems of the Moon Jae-in government and the Democratic Party because he had extraordinary momentum and determination, but allegations regarding profits from the Daejang neighborhood development project show that momentum and determination alone are not enough to guarantee good results,” noted Kim Min-ha.
“Lee should have admitted that he was unable to overcome the structural collusion of vested interests regarding allegations over the Daejang project, and put forth a national vision to completely abolish such structures. But he didn’t, instead taking a pragmatic approach that relied on his past achievements,” shared Kim Yoon-cheol.
The fact that the two major parties, the Democratic Party and the People Power Party, did not show any innovation or vision throughout the campaign but instead focused more on mudslinging and division also contributed to the fact that voters did not show up in overwhelming numbers to support to either of them.
“The Democratic Party was supposed to look inward and change after being defeated in the April 7 by-elections last year, but they did not,” said Park Sung-min, president of Min Consulting. “Throughout these elections, [the Democratic Party] focused its campaign on rallying support through attacks on Yoon and his family.”
“President-elect Yoon, too, was unable to explain why he should become president and instead only stuck to his slogan of passing judgment on the [Moon Jae-in] administration,” Park added.
“Both sides were so busy calling for others to change but were unable to win over the public because they failed to innovate for themselves.”
By Lee Jae-hoon, staff reporter
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