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Elections in South Korea: defeat for President Yoon’s conservatives


The result was expected but its proportion went beyond predictions. The political consequences were immediate. Yoon, in office until 2027, will be a lame duck, with repercussions also on foreign policy, an issue on which the two main parties are at odds.

Mr. Yoon should have developed a response after the heavy defeat suffered in the legislative elections on Wednesday 10 April. Instead he spent Sunday in an emergency security meeting, hastily organized after Iran's attack on Israel. Yoon Suk-yeol is in trouble.

The president of South Korea watched inertly as the defeat suffered by his People's Power Party: only 108 seats out of 300 in the National Assembly, which were also won in tandem with the satellite party. The remaining 192 all ended up in opposition. As many as 176 in the Democratic Party alone, the main opposition force led by his great rival Lee Jae-myung, defeated in a photo finish by Yoon in the 2022 presidential elections.

The result was expected, at least according to the polls on the eve, but its proportion went beyond predictions. The political consequences were immediate. The leader of the ruling Conservative Party, Han Dong-hoo, has resigned. His appeal at the last rally, according to which an opposition victory could make South Korea a "pro-Chinese country", was not enough. Prime Minister Han Duck-soo, Chief of Staff Lee Kwan-sup and all senior presidential secretaries also resigned.

It remains to be seen whether Yoon will accept all the resignations, risking a dangerous management vacuum. But the president is certainly lame until 2027, for his remaining three years in office. The Yoon administration's domestic agenda appears destined to remain stalled.

One of the ideas that Yoon had promised to pursue, namely the administrative union of the city of Gimpo (in Gyeonggi province) with the capital Seoul, will most likely be shelved. The so-called "Megacity Seoul" project in fact needs support that the opposition is not willing to grant.

Several other government initiatives are also set to face obstacles, including a plan to ease real estate regulations to encourage the redevelopment of older apartments across the country. The opposition has opposed the Yoon administration's real estate plans, calling them initiatives that "only benefit the rich." This rhetoric is very present in Lee's speeches, and it is no coincidence that he does not disdain the nickname "South Korean Bernie Sanders".

Yoon's attempt to avoid the implementation of the financial income tax system, scheduled for January 1 next year, may also fail. The system aims to impose a 20% tax on investors who have earned capital gains exceeding 50 million won ($38,000) from stock investments, while those who have earned more than 300 million won will be subject to a 25% tax. The opposition has called for the scheduled implementation of the taxation, which has already been delayed by two years, arguing that any delay could result in a loss of 1,500 billion won a year in taxes.

Meanwhile, the opposition bloc is likely to work towards passing a special bill for an investigation into suspicions that the government and police exerted influence in delaying the investigation into the death of a young marine, overwhelmed on July 19 last year while on a rescue mission during a flood.

An increase in pressure is also expected to shed light on the scandal involving Kim Keon-hee, Yoon's wife, who allegedly accepted a Dior bag as a gift from a Protestant pastor who had become a sort of confidant. Kim herself did not accompany her husband to her polling station on the day of her vote, attracting new controversy.

The opposition will then continue to call for the establishment of a special commission of inquiry into the Itaewon massacre on October 29, 2022. During the Halloween celebrations, 156 people died in the crowds of Seoul's well-known nightlife district. Many have pointed to the almost total absence of security measures, with the almost simultaneous deployment of police near the presidential office for a small protest.

Presidential office that Yoon himself wanted to move from the farthest Blue House to the Ministry of Defense building, not far from the site of the tragedy. The contours of the affair have not yet been clarified, certainly no member of the government has paid the consequences or taken responsibility. And Yoon has repeatedly vetoed calls to establish an investigative commission.

The good news for the president is that the opposition did not reach the two-thirds majority of seats needed to start impeachment proceedings.But in fact Yoon will be a lame duck.An aspect that could also have some impact on foreign policy, an issue on which the two main parties are at odds.Since becoming president, Yoon has drastically strengthened the military alliance with the United States, brought about a thaw with Japan and adopted a hard line on North Korea, responding "blow for blow" to Pyongyang's "provocations".

The opposition, on the other hand, has a more equidistant line between the US and China, pursues dialogue with Pyongyang and considers the rapprochement with Tokyo a "national humiliation", at the cost of giving up the request for compensation for the abuses of the period of Japanese colonial domination.

Precisely because of the internal defeat, Yoon could also try to project himself more decisively on the international front.

But problems at home could overshadow his maneuvers abroad. In Washington, Tokyo, Beijing and Pyongyang have certainly taken notice.

 

 

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