Asia St: Korea’s Election a Tight Fight Ahead of March Polls

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Korea’s Election a Tight Fight Ahead of March Polls

February 17, 2022

South Korea’s current president Moon Jae-in, whose term will end following March 2022 elections (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons).

BGA’s Korea team, led by Managing Director B.J. Kim, published an update on Korea’s upcoming March 2022 presidential election. The update examined the state of the race, the candidate platforms and potential implications for businesses.

Context

  • As Korea prepares for the March 9 presidential elections, the polls suggest voters may be in for an unprecedentedly neck-and-neck race between progressive candidate Lee Jae-myung of President Moon Jae-in’s ruling Democratic Party (DP) and conservative Yoon Seok-youl of the main opposition People Power Party (PPP).
  • The country’s various polls have recently indicated either outcome is equally likely. Depending on the poll, each of the two leading candidates has a slim margin of victory over the other, complicating predictions of the election outcome. With the election less than three weeks away, almost a third of the voters are undecided, and while Yoon leads in more of the polls with razor-thin margins, most observers do not believe this guarantees his victory.

Significance

  • Because the presidential hopefuls have shifted their focus to undecided centrist voters in the context of a close race, their campaign pledges have become somewhat similar. For example, Lee is focusing on deregulation and business promotion while Yoon has promised to help small and medium businesses, with no mention of tax cuts for the rich.
  • The two differ in their stance on foreign affairs and North Korea. Lee has stuck to Moon’s policy of pursuing dialogue with the North while balancing between Washington and Beijing. Yoon on the other hand has pledged to bolster Korea’s defense capabilities and strengthen ties with Washington and Tokyo.

Implications

  • If he wins, BGA Korea believes Lee would be supportive of international business. He was a successful mayor of Korea’s Silicon Valley, Seongnam City, and has taken international investors’ concerns seriously, being mindful of their importance for the Korean business community. However, he may not hesitate to take bold actions against foreign businesses if the public demanded it. He is a realist who is also attentive to shifts in popular will. A Lee government’s foreign policy may not dramatically differ from Moon’s.
  • Yoon’s supporters believe he will rejuvenate the government, which they believe has been continuously run by elite politicians. Yoon brings a wealth of experience as a tough-minded public prosecutor, which his supporters emphasize. His critics on the other hand highlight Yoon’s lack of governing experience and knowledge, claiming his public remarks are often too straightforward and not politically correct. The foreign and North Korea policies of a Yoon government would differ from the current Moon administration in prioritizing military deterrence over political dialogue with Pyongyang.

BGA will continue to monitor developments in Korea as they occur. Inquiries can be directed to BGA Korea Managing Director B. J. Kim