President Yoon Faces Governing Crisis After Devastating Election Defeat

Korean President Yook Seok-yeol seated and speaking at a conference table
Credit: Alexander Kubitza

In a stunning rebuke of President Yoon Seok-yeol's leadership, South Korean voters have handed the main opposition Democratic Party and its allies an overwhelming majority in the National Assembly, plunging the conservative president into the biggest political crisis of his tenure just two years into his five-year term.

The April 10th general election saw the Democratic Party and other opposition parties secure a combined 180 seats in the 300-member National Assembly, while Yoon's People Power Party won a paltry 100 seats - the worst showing for a governing party in recent memory. The results not only deprive Yoon of a parliamentary majority to push through his ambitious reform agenda, but also raise the specter of a lame duck presidency consumed by policy gridlock and partisan power struggles.

The electoral drubbing reflects a dramatic turn in public sentiment against Yoon, whose approval ratings have plummeted amid growing dissatisfaction with his aloof, imperious governing style, a series of political scandals dogging his inner circle, and a perceived neglect of bread-and-butter issues like the rising cost of living. Yoon's single-minded focus on prosecuting his predecessor Moon Jae-in and other political rivals on corruption charges has backfired, as voters crave solutions to kitchen table concerns.

"The new parliament will demand a much more balanced approach that prioritizes social welfare, income redistribution and support for small businesses."

Among the opposition's top priorities will be challenging some of Yoon's most controversial policies, such as his planned labor market reforms that unions have denounced as a sop to big business, and education policies that critics say exacerbate inequality. Yoon's bid to overhaul the national pension system and drastically expand the number of doctors are also likely to face stiff resistance in the new parliament.

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Jamie Larson