Korea’s 2024 general elections are over, and the results are clear. It is the opposing party’s resounding victory. The progressive Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) won 175 out of 300 National Assembly seats, including proportional representation. The opposition bloc that includes the DPK and other smaller parties boasts of as many as 192 seats collectively, way over the desired three-fifths majority that will give them a significant boost of power in state affairs.

The opposition’s victory was expected. Only two years into his 5-year term, Yoon and his administration have been the subject of mounting criticisms for its handling of various domestic as well as diplomatic affairs. Midterm elections are often considered a referendum on the incumbent, and the results showed voters’ clear disappointment with the president and his party. The record-high voter turnout of 67 percent is also telling: In many elections, voters usually turn out in big numbers to show their disapproval toward the ruling party or the president.

The election results also illustrate some other interesting but worrisome trends in Korean politics and society. First, it appears that the opposition party largely won not so much by its own merits as by exploiting the public’s negative sentiment toward the Yoon administration. The opposition has not provided many viable policy alternatives or visions. Instead, its campaign deployed personal attacks against the president and publicized the idea of the “judgment” of the administration, pandering to the anger of the voters. However, it is not like the incumbent and the ruling party did any better. Both sides were heavily engaged in mudslinging and tribal fights against each other.

The polarization and tribalism in Korean politics also show how votes were distributed. Look at the election results map. The Korean Peninsula is not just divided by North and South. It is now heavily divided into East and West. The Seoul metropolitan area and the southwestern part of Korea are all blue, whereas the southeastern part is all red. This regional division is crystal clear. Granted, polarization based on regions has always been a major problem in Korean politics. But it seems it’s gotten worse in recent years, particularly in this year’s elections. Existing tribal sentiments based on regions and politics exploiting those sentiments feed into each other, creating a vicious circle of polarization.

Second, we saw some significant changes in the makeup of the third largest and other parties in Korean politics. The Green Justice Party, the most liberal and progressive wing in the Korean political scene, failed to gain any seats at all. The Green Justice Party has typically produced several representatives in general elections, as well as marginally influential presidential candidates over the years. But it was totally lost this time. Why it failed so badly is unclear. But what’s apparent is its platforms of feminism and environment did not resonate with the majority of the voters. Along with that, progressive-minded Korean citizens are left with no party that can represent them and their voices.

In lieu of the Greem Justice Party, we saw the rise of a new opposition, the Rebuilding Korea Party (RKP), spearheaded by former Justice Minister Cho Kuk. The party gained as many as 12 seats and became the third-largest party. It now has critical leverage in legislative actions. Jointly with the DPK and others, it can pose a significant threat to the Yoon administration.

Then again, Cho formed the RKP only a month before the elections on the platform of “clear judgment against the administration.” The party hardly presented any policy other than the promise to investigate the scandals of the Yoon administration. The investigation may well be warranted, but one cannot shake the feeling that this is just pure political revenge against President Yoon and his prosecutors who convicted Cho of academic fraud relating to his daughter. Cho, a former justice minister, promised an investigation into another academic fraud case involving the daughter of Han Dong-hoon, his successor in the justice minister position and the interim leader of the ruling People Power Party. Fathers, daughters and raw emotions are rampant in this political theater.

The elections are over, but the prospects aren’t necessarily bright. The Yoon administration is at the risk of becoming a lame duck with as many as three years left. There is even a possibility of impeachment. The political dogfight between the opposition bloc and the headstrong Yoon administration will likely continue. Politics of reason and efforts to bridge political divides are needed more than ever.

Min Seong-jae (smin@pace.edu) is a professor of communication and media studies at Pace University in New York. He is a 2023–24 Fulbright U.S. Scholar to Korea.

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Polarization and tribalism

25 1
14.04.2024

Korea’s 2024 general elections are over, and the results are clear. It is the opposing party’s resounding victory. The progressive Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) won 175 out of 300 National Assembly seats, including proportional representation. The opposition bloc that includes the DPK and other smaller parties boasts of as many as 192 seats collectively, way over the desired three-fifths majority that will give them a significant boost of power in state affairs.

The opposition’s victory was expected. Only two years into his 5-year term, Yoon and his administration have been the subject of mounting criticisms for its handling of various domestic as well as diplomatic affairs. Midterm elections are often considered a referendum on the incumbent, and the results showed voters’ clear disappointment with the president and his party. The record-high voter turnout of 67 percent is also telling: In many elections, voters usually turn out in big numbers to show their disapproval toward the ruling party or the president.

The election results also illustrate some other interesting but worrisome trends in Korean politics and society. First, it appears that the opposition party largely won not so much by........

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