South Korea votes in elections seen as referendum on Yoon

South Koreans are voting to elect the representatives for the country's 300-member parliament, marking a significant political trial for conservative President Yoon Suk-yeol . (Photo/Reuters)

Voting is under way in South Korea whose President Yoon Suk-yeol is facing a crucial referendum in a parliamentary election that could determine whether he becomes a lame duck or enjoys a mandate to pursue key policies for his remaining three years in office.

At a polling station in Seoul's Gwangjin district early on Wednesday, voters lined up patiently to have their identity documents checked and receive their ballot papers, before heading into polling booths to vote.

Polling stations opened at 6 am and will close at 6 pm [local time]. South Korea has 44 million eligible voters, and about 31 percent of them, or nearly 14 million people, have already cast ballots during two-day early voting last week.

It was the highest turnout of its kind in the history of South Korean parliamentary elections, according to the National Election Commission.

Of the 300 seats, 254 are to be elected through direct votes in local districts and the other 46 allotted by the proportion of the votes cast for the parties. Election observers say candidates in about 50 to 55 local districts are in neck-and-neck races.

Mudslinging ahead of election

Months ahead of the election, the conservatives supporting Yoon and their liberal rivals exchanged toxic rhetoric and mudslinging, a sign of a deepening domestic divide.

Regardless of the results, Yoon will stay in power, but a failure by his governing People Power Party to restore a parliamentary majority could hurt Yoon's push for his agenda and further intensify the conservative-liberal fighting.

Since taking office in 2022 for a single five-year term, Yoon, a former top prosecutor, has been grappling with low approval ratings and a liberal opposition-controlled parliament that has limited his major policy platforms.

Pre-election surveys indicate that the liberal opposition parties will likely maintain a dominant position in the single-chamber, 300-member National Assembly. But many observers say it's still too early to determine who will win the election because many electorates are being closely fought and many moderate voters will make last-minute choices.

"What would matter to the People Power Party is whether it can become the biggest party or the second biggest party," said Choi Jin, director of the Seoul-based Institute of Presidential Leadership.

"If his party loses the election, Yoon will find it difficult to move forward even a single step on state affairs."

South Korea’s toxic conservative-liberal division deepened during the 2022 presidential election, during which Yoon and his main liberal rival Lee Jae-myung spent months demonising each other. Yoon eventually beat Lee by the narrowest margin in the country’s presidential race.

Lee, now the chairman of the opposition Democratic Party, is a harsh critic of Yoon's major policies and is eying another presidential bid. He faces an array of corruption investigations that he argues were politically motivated by Yoon's government.

There was a brief soul-searching about South Korea's divisive politics after Lee was stabbed in the neck in January by a man who, according to police, tried to kill Lee to prevent him from becoming president. But as the parliamentary election approached, the rival parties began churning out abusive rhetoric and crude insults against each other.


Source: TRT