South Korea Opposition Set for Landslide in Parliamentary Election

South Korea's main opposition Democratic Party (DP) leader Lee Jae-myung (4th, L) and candidates watch TVs broadcasting the results of exit polls for the parliamentary election at the National Assembly in Seoul on April 10, 2024. Photo by Chung Sung-Jun / POOL / AFP

Seoul, South Korea -- South Korea's opposition was set to triumph in parliamentary elections on Wednesday, with exit polls suggesting it increased its majority in a major blow to President Yoon Suk Yeol.

The Democratic Party (DP) of Lee Jae-myung -- survivor of a January knife attack and myriad scandals -- and its satellites are forecast to win between 184 and 197 seats, up from 156 in the last parliament.

Yoon's People Power Party (PPP) and its satellite party were expected to have secured 85 to 99 seats, down from 114, the exit polls conducted by three major broadcasters indicated.

All opposition parties combined may even have secured a super-majority of 200 in the 300-seat parliament, which could in theory allow them to attempt to impeach Yoon.

That includes new party Rebuilding Korea, led by former justice minister Cho Kuk, who is facing corruption charges that he denies, which was projected to have won 12-14 seats.

"The people have won, the will to judge Yoon Suk Yeol is very clear," Cho said after the vote, local media reported.

Yoon beat Lee in South Korea's closest-ever presidential election in 2022 and has taken a tough line with the nuclear-armed North while improving ties with Washington and former colonial occupier Japan.

But Lee, while fending off a slew of graft probes he says are politically motivated, has secured revenge with the election result following a bruising and polarising campaign.

"I'll watch the people's choice with a humble heart," Lee said after the vote, local media reported.

From the start of his presidency, Yoon has been unpopular, with ratings hitting the low 30s, and the PPP's lack of control of the National Assembly has stymied his socially conservative legislative agenda.

This includes planned healthcare reforms -- that are backed by voters but have sparked a crippling strike by doctors -- and a pledge to abolish the ministry of gender equality.

PPP leader Han Dong-hoon said that "exit polls are disappointing... We will watch the vote count", the Yonhap News Agency reported.

- No babies -

On Yoon's side were shifting demographics, with voters aged 60 and older now outnumbering those in both their 20s and 30s in a country with the world's lowest birth rate.

"Voters over 60 represent a formidable and staunchly conservative base for Yoon," Sharon Yoon, a Korean studies professor at the University of Notre Dame, told AFP.

Younger Koreans have been put off politics by a political class dominated by older men who ignore their concerns.

Many say this was underlined by the horrific 2022 Halloween crowd crush in Seoul that killed more than 150 mostly young people.

The younger generation is also struggling economically, with cut-throat competition in education, fewer job opportunities and sky-high housing costs.

"There is definitely less interest in this election among the people around me than last time. I think it is because they feel rather disappointed," business owner Kim Yong-ho, 24, said outside a polling station in Seoul's Gwangjin district.

The tone of the campaigning has also put many voters off, lacking in substantive policy debate and marked instead by shrill calls to "imprison" Lee or "punish" Yoon.

"I am truly ashamed of our country's politics and government," Kim Do-kyung, 47, an activist for migrant women and their children, told AFP.

This has been accompanied by hate speech and disinformation online that experts worry could lead to more attacks like the one on Lee in January and another weeks later.

The DP favours a less hawkish approach towards Pyongyang, and Lee has made a number of pro-China remarks. One doctored video showed him bowing to a statue of Mao Zedong.

It has also latched onto a gaffe by Yoon last month about the "reasonable" cost of green onions, a staple in Korean cooking that has soared in price.

The humble vegetable became a popular prop at DP rallies, and the election commission even banned voters from bringing them to polling stations.

Jeremiah Shim, 40, a pastor, said people in his congregation are finding it harder to get by because of rising food prices.

"I support (Lee). His history and life journey are very impressive. Many people think he can change our future," Shim told AFP at a DP rally.

The first official results were expected later Wednesday.


© Agence France-Presse

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