Dummy’s guide to the Korean election results: A rough night for Park Geun-hye
Wednesday 14th April is not a day President Park Geun-hye will be keen to remember in years to come. With the votes counted her party, Saenuri, are not even the largest party in the National Assembly, let alone the majority.
Voters this time round were not voting for the next president but for representatives in the National Assembly.
Exit polls indicated the conservatives would come out on top – some even predicted a “supermajority” of 180 of the 300 available seats – but voters have seemingly chosen to support more liberal parties – despite a split in the main liberal opposition after the last presidential election having caused them some damage. It’s the first time in 16 years that the president does not have a majority.
Main opposition Minjoo Party won 123 seats, one more than Saenuri, but the real winner was the People’s Party which was only created in January and managed to nearly double its seats to 38. The new party is led by professor and successful tech businessman Ahn Cheol-soo who dropped out of the presidential race in 2012 despite some polls indicating he could have won.
Ahn seems to appeal to voters who are fed up with the confrontational two-party system which has dominated South Korea since its democratic elections started taking place in the late eighties – early nineties. He did particularly well in Honam – the south-west voting bloc consisting of Gwangju and Jeolla-do which has traditionally always voted for the main liberal party. Meanwhile Gyeongsang-do voters continued to support conservative Saenuri showing regional divides are still alive and well.
Feel like I’ve seen something like this 2016 Korean election map somewhere else before. pic.twitter.com/iEfjQMQvPs
— James Pearson (@pearswick) April 14, 2016
Analysis so far has pointed to ever-increasing youth unemployment rates (12.5% – the highest since records began in 1999), lack of good job opportunities across the board and Park’s low approval ratings with voters as the main reasons for voters choosing other parties. Others are also believe it indicates Saenuri’s strong stance on security – particularly against North Korea – doesn’t hold the sway it did when President Park was elected.
In fact, many people, particularly younger conservatively-minded voters, seem to have turned against Park’s authoritarian political style that has seen policies which many see as stifling free-speech introduced in the past few years. Particularly a recent piece of anti-terror legislation which caused opposition politicians to break a world record for filibustering in an, unsuccessful, attempt to block. A lot of voters are also not keen on Park’s perceived domineering and uncompromising approach to her opposition, as one man told Bloomberg:
Yun Se Ho, a 37-year-old office worker, said he voted for Ahn’s party instead of Saenuri because Park seemed incapable of compromise. “She always tries to ram everything through,” Yun said. “I am tired of her being confrontational with opposition all the time.”
Overall a lot of voters are sick of the current climate in the National Assembly, as one 46-year-old woman told Reuters:
“I hope that parliament will be more mature to mirror the maturity of the voters and that politics can be used for the welfare of children and young people.”
For Park and her party, this means her policies will be much more difficult to get through for the remainder of her term. In particular it’s likely to affect her plans for economic reforms. Many of these are controversial with the opposition including plans to reform employment law making it easier for firms to hire and fire employees.
So what’s next for the president?
Party chairman Kim Moo-sung, you know the one who recently caused outrage after comparing an African students face to coal, has already taken responsibility for the loss and offered to step down but many are hailing this as a the Korean people rejecting politics as usual and that more will need to be done to win them back over. Bets are already being taken on what Saenuri will change its name to before next year’s presidential election – in the grand tradition of defeated Korean political parties.
What will the name of South Korea’s main conservative party be at the next election? — Alastair Gale (@AlastairGale) April 14, 2016
Meanwhile nearly third of the newly elected representatives are facing charges for breaking election law which is exceptionally high even for Korea where campaigning is fierce, unrelenting and often just a little bit insane.
We’ll have to wait to see what it means for Korea in the long run but in the meantime Saenuri and Minjoo will have to work on appeasing the factions within their party while Ahn Cheol-soo has to set out a credible alternative to the two mainstream parties if he wants a reasonable shot at the top job.
It’s an interesting time for South Korean democracy but if all this politics is getting too much, you can always enjoy the inevitable charade of K-pop idols standing awkwardly in front of voting booths.