South Korean voters — and little onions — rebuke the president

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South Korean voters — and little onions — rebuke the president

IIT WOULD NOT BE a South Korean election without a bit of spectacle. This year’s campaign for the April 10 legislative elections saw one lawmaker express penance by shaving his head and walking around in a wooden cage, another proving his “authenticity” by posing shirtless, and more more engaging in pre-recorded rap battles about politics. during the vote. But the main theme of the campaign was opposition candidates agitating Pennsylvania (spring onions) to mock Yoon Suk Yeol, the conservative president, after he blurted out that he had no idea how much everyday Korean dishes cost. The jibe became so popular that South Korea’s election commission banned voters from bringing the allium into polling stations.

The perception that Mr. Yoon was out of touch with reality cost his People Power Party dearly (PPP) dearly. The former attorney general was elected two years ago, promising to end the “imperial” presidency and get closer to ordinary people. Two years ago, the Democratic Party (DP) and its sister party won the legislative elections with 180 seats, the largest total in South Korea’s democratic history. This time, with the highest turnout in legislative elections in more than three decades, the DP The bloc did not get as many seats. But it still gave the PPP a beating, winning 175 seats out of the 300 in Parliament, against 108 for the president’s party and its satellite. A third party, the Rebuilding Korea Party (RKP), won 12 seats. If the RKP can work with the DP, the two parties would hold more than three-fifths of the seats in parliament, giving them the power to speed up the processing of bills. A number of senior officials, including Han Dong-hoon, the PPPThe country’s interim leader resigned apologetically after the news broke. A cynic would think he was abandoning a sinking ship. Mr. Yoon’s ability to build a national legacy is under serious threat.

Mr. Yoon’s unfavorable rating has hovered around 30 for most of his term. His party’s electoral prospects have not been helped by corruption charges against its first lady or by his government’s failure to resolve a conflict with doctors who have been on strike since February. But ultimately, it was pocketbook issues, like inflation and housing prices, that dominated voters’ concerns. “Prices are too high, the economy is worse than ever,” complained Mr. Cho, a 33-year-old voter in Seoul’s affluent Gangnam district. “But the president is not interested in knowing the price of a spring onion.”

THE DPMr. Yoon’s majority will not be able to pass meaningful reforms unless he can reach across the aisle. This seems unlikely. Despite claiming to want to radically reform the country, the president has introduced few significant laws and passed even fewer. However, he vetoed nine bills during his two years in office, more than any previous president during a full five-year term.

Having retained his majority, the DP They are unlikely to be in the mood to compromise. Lee Jae-myung, the party leader, has long denounced the administration as a “prosecutor’s dictatorship,” led by former colleagues of the president. And the RPKThe country’s leader, Cho Kuk, said before the election that he hoped to make the president “first a lame duck, then a dead duck.”

THE PPP hardly appealed to his adversaries. Mr. Han spent the campaign engaging the leaders of both countries DP And RKP were criminals. Mr Lee is charged with corruption, although he denies the accusations and says he is the victim of a political witch hunt. Mr. Cho, meanwhile, is appealing a conviction for falsifying documents and corruption — although that probably doesn’t justify Mr. Han’s comments comparing him to Hitler.

Perversely, Mr. Yoon might be happy to count on an uncooperative opposition as an excuse to justify his domestic policy failure. Two years later, his team is struggling to articulate a detailed or sufficiently ambitious plan to solve the country’s problems. These include a younger generation unable to find decent work or afford housing, a rapidly aging population and the world’s lowest fertility rate at just 0.72. Its economy is also dependent on exports and excessively beholden to a small number of conglomerates, meaning it is struggling to cope with America and China’s overhaul of global trade. At least now Mr. Yoon has someone to blame for not doing anything on the domestic front.

The president will likely focus on areas where he has already achieved some success, such as strengthening South Korea’s alliance with America and trying to improve the country’s troubled relationship with Japan. Yet Mr. Lee, instinctively anti-Japanese and eager to see South Korea take a more balanced approach to the Sino-American rivalry, may attempt to upend this agenda. Even where he is strongest, Mr. Yoon might find it difficult to build a legacy.

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