South Korea goes to the polls this Wednesday to elect its next president with a stuffy nose, after an electoral campaign plagued with controversy, insults and accusations of corruption and abuse of power against the two main candidates, who monopolize according to the polls the 90% of the voting intention. The winner will mark the course of the policy of the fourth economy in Asia towards the United States and towards a North Korea that reactivates its missile tests, after in the last five years the current head of state, the progressive Moon Jae-in , will focus the country’s foreign strategy on building ties with Pyongyang.
About 44 million people are called to decide the winner of a list of candidates headed by the conservative Yoon Suk-yeol, 61, of the People’s Power Party (PPP), and the progressive Lee Jae-myung, 57. years and the Democratic Party (PD) currently in government. The polls considered them in a technical tie, with distances between them lower than the margin of error of the consultations, in a testimony of the marked political division, increasingly deeper in recent years, that South Korean society is experiencing. Approximately 37% of voters had already cast their ballots by mail before this election day, in a country that is experiencing a strong wave of infections by the omicron variant of covid, with 200,000 new infections daily.
Both candidates have opted for the previous remote vote. Each one -and his wives- carry their own scandals. Lee, a former child laborer who overcame difficulties to study law and become governor of Gyeonggi province, the most populous in the country, has been affected by a controversial real estate operation, in whose investigation two key witnesses have committed suicide. His wife, Kim Hye-kyung, is suspected of misappropriation of public funds.
Yoon’s wife, for her part, has been accused of embezzlement and having falsified her resume to get positions at the University. She has had to apologize after stating that the complainants of the #MeToo movement in South Korea have spoken because “men have not paid them”. Yoon himself, a former attorney general, assures that if he reaches the Blue House – the seat of the South Korean presidency – he will abolish the Ministry of Equality, considering it unnecessary, in a country where the wage gap between men and women is the largest in the OECD (They charge a third more than average). Yoon, the man who landed Moon’s predecessor, Park Geun-hye, in jail for a grotesque corruption scandal that cost the former president her job in 2016 and in which the former leader’s relationship with shamanism, too, has been criticized in turn for apparent links to those beliefs. Both candidates have traded insults throughout the campaign and during successive debates.
Surveys indicate that for South Koreans, the issues of greatest concern in these elections are high housing prices, youth unemployment and social inequality. Lee, who wants to make the South Korean economy the fifth in the world (it is currently the tenth), proposes, among other things, a minimum universal income and measures such as investment in digital transformation to create two million new jobs. Yoon has vowed to investigate alleged wrongdoing during current President Moon’s tenure.
In the field of foreign policy, both offer completely different positions on how to manage the growing rivalry between China and the United States, or the relationship with a North Korea that is once again carrying out frequent missile tests. Lee, heir to Moon’s policy of rapprochement with Pyongyang, supports the conditional lifting of sanctions on the northern neighbor if Kim Jong Un’s regime takes steps towards denuclearization. It also advocates not entering into a military alliance with Japan and the United States, and rejects expanding the US-made THAAD anti-missile system, whose deployment on South Korean soil triggered a Chinese boycott against South Korean products in 2016. Beijing considers that system a threat. against your safety.
Join EL PAÍS to follow all the news and read without limits.
Yoon, on the other hand, is in favor of greater military collaboration with Tokyo and Washington, and has declared himself ready for a preventive attack against North Korean facilities if he deems it necessary.
The South Korean election day began at 06:00 local time (22:00 on Tuesday, Spanish peninsular time). The polls will close at 6:00 p.m. (10:00 a.m. Spanish peninsular time) for the general public, but they will remain open for another ninety minutes so that those infected with covid can vote. The results of the exit polls will be announced at 7:30 p.m. (11:30 a.m. in Spain), although experts ask for caution about the results they yield, given the tightness of the voting intention and that these polls do not take into account the absentee ballot.