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Yoon Suk-yeol elected president of South Korea

Yoon Suk Yeol, the presidential candidate of the main opposition People Power Party, who was elected South Korea’s new president on Thursday, holds bouquets as he is congratulated by party’s members and lawmakers at the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea March 10, 2022. Lee Jin-man/Pool via REUTERS

On a wave of frustration over economic policy, scandals, and gender wars, conservative South Korean opposition candidate Yoon Suk-yeol won a tight presidential election, altering the political future of Asia’s fourth-largest economy.

The news: His triumph in Wednesday’s bruising election is a stunning turnaround for the dominant conservative party, now known as the People Power Party, which has regrouped since President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment and removal in 2017.

  • Yoon is a former prosecutor-general involved in Park’s case who had a falling out with outgoing President Moon Jae-in after being appointed by him and becoming well-known for his probes against top presidential advisers.
  • Yoon has promised to fight corruption, promote justice, and level the playing field in the economy, all while pursuing a “reset” with China and a stronger posture against reclusive North Korea, which has conducted a record number of missile launches in recent months.
  • He must unite a country of 52 million people torn apart by gender and generational differences, rising inequality, and skyrocketing housing prices.
Yoon Suk Yeol, the presidential candidate of the main opposition People Power Party, who was elected South Korea’s new president on Thursday, is congratulated by party’s members and lawmakers upon his arrival at the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea March 10, 2022. Lee Jin-man/Pool via REUTERS

What’s going on: Yoon, 61, defeated Lee Jae-myung of the ruling Democratic Party’s centre-left bloc to succeed Moon, whose single five-year term expires in May.

  • Yoon’s lack of elected political experience was both viewed as a liability and a strength.
  • While his campaign was marred by gaffes and controversy, the election turned into a referendum on Moon’s economic policies, which included everything from jobs to housing to wealth disparity.
  • With Yoon expected to speed up deregulation in South Korea’s capital markets, the benchmark KOSPI gained more than 2 per cent, the greatest daily advance in at least three months.
  • The election was one of the most closely contested in recent memory, following an extremely acrimonious campaign marked by scandals and attacks.
  • Yoon was congratulated by the White House, which stated that President Joe Biden looked forward to working closely with him to further the alliance.
  • Fumio Kishida, Japan’s prime minister, congratulated Yoon on his victory and expressed his desire to work closely with him to repair the country’s strained ties with its neighbour, which date back to Japan’s 1910-1945 colonisation of Korea.
Supporters for South Korea’s President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol watch a live report broadcasting the results of the presidential election in Seoul, South Korea, March 10, 2022. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

What’s important: Despite a record number of new COVID-19 cases this week, more than 77 per cent of South Korea’s 44 million eligible voters cast ballots to elect their next leader.

  • Yoon stated that he will collaborate with opposing parties in order to mend polarised politics and promote harmony.
  • “Our competition is over for now,” he said in an acceptance speech. “We have to join hands and unite into one for the people and the country.”   
  • Yoon declared at a separate ceremony with supporters that “national unity” will be his main concern, and that everyone should be treated equally despite of their geographical, political, or financial disparities.
  • Lee apologised for his loss and complimented his opponent. On Thursday, the Democratic leadership, including the party’s chairman, resigned, accepting responsibility for the outcome.
  • “I did my best, but failed to live up to your expectations,” Lee said, blaming his “shortcomings”.
Conservative South Korean opposition candidate Yoon Suk-yeol was elected president on Thursday in one of the most closely fought races in recent history which will shape Asia’s fourth-largest economy for the next five years.
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