Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - South Korea chooses new leader with inequality key concern



South Korea chooses new leader with inequality key concern

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
People cast their votes in the presidential election at a polling station in Seoul on Wednesday. AFP

South Korea chooses new leader with inequality key concern

South Koreans began voting for a new president on Wednesday with economic inequality a top concern, despite growing sabre-rattling from the nuclear-armed North.

Polling booths opened at 6am (2100 GMT) with many voters lining up patiently in the dark waiting to cast their ballots.

Record early voting indicates turnout will be high after a campaign dominated by mud-slinging between liberal Lee Jae-myung and conservative Yoon Suk-yeol.

The pair have been neck-and-neck in the polls for months, with around 90 percent of the electorate supporting one or the other.

Analysts say South Korean politics is particularly adversarial, with democracy only restored in 1987 after decades of authoritarian rule.

Presidents serve just a single term of five years, and every living former leader has been jailed for corruption after leaving office.

Yoon has already threatened to investigate outgoing President Moon Jae-in, citing unspecified “irregularities”.

Polling stations opened at 6 am (2100 GMT) and will shut at 6 pm. For 90 minutes after closing, Covid-positive voters will be allowed to cast their ballots.

South Korea is in the grip of an Omicron wave with more than 200,000 new cases being recorded on most days this month.

More than a million people are currently isolating at home after testing positive, health authorities say. The country amended its electoral laws last month to ensure they would be able to vote.

In a two-day early voting exercise last week, a record-breaking 37 percent of the 44 million people eligible cast their ballots – the highest number since the system was introduced in 2013.

Polls show the top concerns among the electorate are skyrocketing house prices in the capital Seoul, rising domestic inequality and stubborn youth unemployment.

The new president will also have to confront an increasingly assertive North Korea, which has embarked on a record-breaking blitz of weapons tests this year including a launch just days before the election.

Lee, a former child factory worker turned politician, has offered a slew of fresh policies from a universal basic income to free school uniforms – but his ideas have been overshadowed by media coverage of scandals.

The 57-year-old is under pressure over a controversial land development deal in which private investors profited from a state-funded project on Lee’s watch as mayor of the city of Seongnam.

He was also forced to start his campaign by apologising for a profanity-laden phone call with his family involving disputes with his late brother and mother.

His conservative rival Yoon has called for a relaxation of labour regulations including a lowering of the minimum wage and the removal of limits on working hours.

The former top prosecutor is also promising to abolish the gender equality ministry, saying South Korean women do not suffer from “systemic gender discrimination”, despite evidence to the contrary.

Yoon has made a series of gaffes on the campaign trail including most recently with a tweet on Ukraine in which he posted a tangerine with an angry face in a bizarre reference to the country’s Orange Revolution of 2004.

Critics described the tweet as “tone deaf”.

The winner of the election will formally succeed Moon in May. The incumbent remains popular, despite not achieving a promised peace deal with North Korea.

MOST VIEWED

  • Angkor lifetime pass, special Siem Reap travel offers planned

    The Ministry of Tourism plans to introduce a convenient, single lifetime pass for foreign travellers to visit Angkor Archaeological Park and potentially other areas. The move is designed to stimulate tourism to the culturally rich province of Siem Reap as the start of the “Visit

  • Ice cream, noodles flagged over carcinogen

    The General Department of Customs and Excise of Cambodia (GDCE) has identified three types of instant noodles and ice cream trademarks originating from Thailand, Vietnam and France that are suspected to contain ethylene oxide, which poses a cancer risk to consumers. The general department has

  • Exclusive interview with Josep Borrell Fontelles, High Representative of the EU

    CAMBODIA is hosting the 55th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) and Related Meetings this week with top officials from the US, China, and Russia and other countries in the region slated to attend and to meet with face-to-face with their counterparts on the sidelines. In

  • Rise in Thai air routes to Siem Reap fuels travel hopes

    Local tourism industry players are eager for regional airline Bangkok Airways Pcl’s resumption of direct flight services between the Thai capital and Siem Reap town on August 1 – home of Cambodia’s awe-inspiring Angkor Archaeological Park – which is expected to boost the growth rate of

  • ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ meet commences, Taiwan issue possibly on table

    The 55th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) and related meetings hosted by Cambodia kicks off in Phnom Penh on August 3, with progress, challenges, and the way forward for the ASEAN Community-building on the table. Issues on Taiwan, sparked by the visit of US House Speaker

  • Recap of this year’s ASEAN FM meet and look ahead

    This year’s edition of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) hosted by Cambodia comes against the backdrop of heightened global tensions and increasing rivalry between major powers that have been compared to the animosity of the Cold War era. The following is The Post’