Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - South Korea to pick new president in March vote



South Korea to pick new president in March vote

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
South Korea’s presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol (centre) of the main opposition People Power Party waving to his supporters during an election campaign in Seoul ahead of the March 9 presidential election. AFP

South Korea to pick new president in March vote

South Korea will elect a new president on March 9 and voters face a stark choice: a feminist-bashing conservative or a scandal-plagued liberal? So far, it’s a dead heat.

The two frontrunners, dour former prosecutor Yoon Suk-yeol of the People Power party and the incumbent Democratic party’s maverick ex-governor Lee Jae-myung are trapped in a neck-and-neck race to become the next leader of Asia’s fourth largest economy.

And what propels one of them to victory will not be their populist campaign promises or North Korea policy, analysts say. Instead, it’s what the papers have dubbed a “cycle of revenge” in South Korea’s famously adversarial politics.

“This election is a battle between two opposite forces – the progressives and conservatives,” said political analyst Park Sang-byoung.

South Korean presidents are allowed by law to serve a single five year term, and every living former president has been investigated and jailed for corruption after leaving office.

Outgoing President Moon Jae-in himself swept to power in 2017 after his disgraced predecessor Park Geun-hye was impeached over an influence-peddling scandal that also put a Samsung heir behind bars.

Now, Park’s conservatives are eager for revenge.

Ironically, their candidate Yoon was chief prosecutor under Moon and pursued Park when she was impeached – an experience that boosted his profile and popularity and pushed him to enter politics.

South Korean politics has seen a “deepening division” in recent years, with elections more focused on party rivalry than policy, analyst Yoo Jung-hoon said.

“Many conservatives still hold a grudge over the impeachment of Park Geun-hye,” he said.

Yoon is appealing to these disgruntled voters, offering a chance at “revenge” for Park’s ousting – even going so far as to threaten to investigate Moon for unspecified “irregularities”.

“We should do it,” Yoon said last month, referring to prosecuting Moon and his administration.

His comments earned a rare rebuke from the presidential Blue House and the ruling Democratic party’s candidate Lee said they indicated his rival was not fit to lead the nation.

But analysts say it’s just political business as usual in Seoul.

“The Moon administration has prosecuted many former officials in the name of rooting out deep-rooted corruption,” Shin Yul, a political science professor at Myongji University.

“I expect the same standard to be applied under the Yoon government should wrongdoings be found,” he said.

Yoon’s wife in January gave an unwitting insight into the realpolitik to come, claiming enemies and critics would be prosecuted if her husband won because that’s “the nature of power,” according to taped comments released after a court battle.

Polls show that voters’ top concerns this election cycle are skyrocketing house prices in the capital Seoul, stagnant growth, and stubborn youth unemployment – but campaigning has been dominated by mud-slinging.

Lee, a former mayor and provincial governor, has a slew of fresh policy offerings – from universal basic income to free school uniforms – but they’ve been overshadowed by media coverage of his scandals.

He is being scrutinised over a suspect land development deal, with two key witnesses to the case having killed themselves.

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’