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PoliticsSouth Korea

Conservative candidate wins S. Korea presidential election

March 9, 2022

South Korea's opposition conservatives have won the presidency after one of the most bitterly contested campaigns in recent history. Conservative candidate Yoon Suk-yeol took the vote by slightly less than 1%.

Yoon Suk-yeol gestures at a campaign event ahead of polling day
Yoon's conservatives have been embattled by scandals, but were able to secure victoryImage: KIM HONG-JI/REUTERS

South Korean conservative opposition candidate Yoon Suk-yeol edged past opponent Lee Jae-myung from the ruling Democratic Party in Wednesday's presidential vote, concluding one of the most bitter political campaigns in recent memory.

Lee concedes: 'I did not live up to expectations'

Lee conceded defeat early Thursday morning local time, and Yoon declared victory soon thereafter. 

"I did my best, but I did not live up to expectations," Lee told supporters at the Democratic Party office. "It's neither your defeat nor the Democratic Party's. All responsibility lies solely with me."

Yoon won 48.59% of the votes, with Lee garnering 47.80%.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida welcomed Yoon's victory and said he hoped to work closely with him to rebuild healthier ties with its neighbor.

"I offer my heartfelt congratulations on his election," Kishida told reporters.

"Especially now as the international community faces major change, healthy Japan-South Korea relations are … indispensable," he said.

Fumio added that current "fraught" ties needed to improve, in a reference to tensions over historic and economic disputes dating to Japan's 1910-1945 occupation of Korea.

US President Joe Biden also congratulated Yoon during a telephone call, the White House said.

Biden said he looked forward to working closely with him to bolster their alliance.

President-elect vows tough North Korea policy

The conservative candidate, speaking at a victory ceremony with his supporters Thursday said he would "sternly deal" with the threat posed by North Korea.

"But the door to dialogue is always open," he said.

"I would pay attention to people's livelihoods, provide warm welfare services to the needy, and make utmost efforts so that our country serves as a proud, responsible member of the international community and the free world," Yoon said Thursday.

Who is South Korea's new president? 

Yoon was formerly a top prosecutor in South Korea, and is relatively new to politics, having risen through the ranks as a public prosecutor.

As the candidate for the People Power Party, Yoon vowed to root out corruption and take a hawkish line toward North Korea

A victory for Yoon represents a remarkable turnaround for the conservatives that have been in disarray since the impeachment and dismissal of President Park Geun-Hye.

Presidents serve a single term of five years. Yoon's term will begin in May. 

Both candidates unpopular

The election had become a tight race between Lee and Yoon. However, both were so unpopular that local media dubbed the contest the "election of the unfavorables."

Campaigns kick off in South Korea

Yoon has been accused of being "anti-feminist," while Lee has faced multiple scandals.  

Lee was governor of the most populous province of Gyeonggi.

He shot to fame with his aggressive coronavirus responses and a slew of fresh policies, including a universal basic income and free school uniforms.

What were the key issues?

Top concerns among young voters were the skyrocketing housing prices in the capital, Seoul, domestic inequality, and stubborn youth unemployment. 

Both candidates vowed to build new homes but offered starkly different solutions to the crisis. Lee relies on left-leaning public housing and Yoon on market-led solutions.

North Korea also remains one of the major issues.

Pyongyang has carried out a record-breaking blitz of weapons tests this year, including a launch just days before the election.

Yoon's presidency likely means a turnaround of his predecessor Moon Jae-in's policy of detente on North Korea.

The conservative has promised to take a tougher line, and has called for greater cooperation with the US to confront the threat posed by Pyongyang

South Korea holds poll in Ukraine's shadow

wmr,adi/ msh(AFP, Reuters)