As the world is focused on the devastating crisis in Ukraine, South Korean attention is consumed by a dramatic, contentious presidential election, which will impact the future of South Korea’s democracy and U.S. policy in the region. In politics, it is always too soon to call the race until all votes are cast. This is especially so when the leading candidates from the ruling and opposition parties are neck-in-neck in the polls.
For the first time, this contest on March 9 is between two unconventional candidates whose victory will likely be determined largely by unprecedented young swing voters. Apart from each of the candidates’ fandoms, South Koreans say they have a choice between the “worst and second-worst candidate” from the ruling and main opposition parties. They describe this election as the gloomiest election ever since the country’s democratization began in 1987.
South Korea’s democratization is a triumphant success story, yet every administration was criticized for its share of undemocratic practices.
That is because the last five years under progressive President Moon Jae-in have been anything but hopeful for many South Koreans while the two main presidential hopefuls are both unprecedented candidates marred by scandals. Ahead of the snap presidential election in 2017 (upon the impeachment of the previous conservative president, Park Geun-hye), I pointed out that an enormous reconstruction job awaited the next president. Voters back then were tired of the glass ceiling, wide income disparities, and corruption of their political leaders. These frustrations have, on many levels, been exacerbated. Moon’s policies on jobs, real estate, and taxes have hit the youth, the middle class, and small businesses the hardest. Critics in Korea describe these policies as socialist and authoritarian control in disguise. Voters have also witnessed endless reports of corruption scandals and sexual harassment charges by Moon’s closest aides and officials despite proclaiming to be a “feminist president.”
Read the full article from The National Interest.
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