South Korea: Overwhelming Opposition Victory in Legislative Elections

South Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-soo resigns

Leader del Partito democratico, Lee Jae Myung

A political earthquake has hit South Korea following the victory of the Democratic Party (DP), the main opposition force, in legislative elections held in the Asian country on Wednesday, April 10. According to the National Election Commission, voter turnout was 67% of the 44.28 million eligible voters.

Of the 300 seats in South Korea’s National Assembly and Parliament, the DP, led by Lee Jae-myung, won at least 172 seats. This is a slightly lower result than expected based on exit polls conducted jointly by the three major broadcasters yesterday, which gave the opposition between 178 and 192 seats. South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol’s People Power Party (PPP), already in a minority in parliament, is coming out of the vote even further weakened with only 106 seats.

In terms of political alliances, the Democrats and their allies won 175 seats (5 fewer than in the 2020 election), while the PPP and affiliated People Future Party (PFP) will get 108 seats (5 fewer than in the 2020 election). The Rebuilding Korea Movement (RK), a force led by former Justice Minister Cho Kuk and considered part of the opposition bloc, won 12 seats under the proportional system, while the New Reform Party (NRP) of former ousted PPP leader Lee Jun-seok won two seats.

As South Korean media wrote today, “the poll results revealed a serious deterioration in positive sentiment toward President Yoon’s administration just two years after he took office. In doing so, the PPP barely managed to prevent the largest opposition bloc from gaining a two-thirds majority.” The results of the local elections in Seoul speak for themselves, with the Democrats winning 90 of 122 constituencies, and in Gyeonggi Province, they won 53 of 60 seats.

Immediately after the results of the vote were announced, People’s Power Party leader Han Dong-hoon resigned, publicly taking responsibility for his party’s heavy defeat. Han is very close to President Yoon. He took charge of the PPP’s election campaign last December in an already precarious situation, with the party’s low popularity unable to turn the tide and secure victory. “I apologize to citizens on behalf of our party, which failed to win their support,” Han said during a press conference at the PPP headquarters in Seoul. “I solemnly accept the will of the citizens and pledge to reflect deeply on myself. I take full responsibility for the outcome of the election and resign,” Han emphasized.

Meanwhile, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol pledged to “reform state affairs” to reflect the “will of the people” after the opposition’s convincing victory in parliamentary elections, which also forced Prime Minister Han Duck-soo to resign. Three other South Korean politicians have also resigned, including presidential chief of staff Lee Kwan-seop. “I will humbly accept the will of the people expressed in the general election, strive to reform the administration, and do my best to stabilize the economy and improve people’s living conditions,” Lee Kwan-seop said.

It is still early and unrealistic to make predictions, but many analysts are speculating about a change in Seoul’s foreign policy, primarily with regard to Russia and China. In part, the outcome of the vote can be seen as a kind of popular referendum that rejected President Yoon Suk-yeol’s political line in favor of Seoul’s rapid rapprochement with Washington.