Category: South Korea

View from Japan: South Korea’s Pandemic Elections

By Tadashi Kimiya | The Diplomat

In elections held in South Korea last week, the ruling liberal Democratic Party and its satellite Citizen Party won 180 seats of the 300 seats in the National Assembly. The conservative opposition United Future Party and its satellite Future Korea Party were meanwhile left with just 103 seats.

Credit: (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

The resounding win frees the government from the limitations of the National Assembly Advancement Act, so that it is now able to legislate anything other than constitutional amendments. This was a historic election, even more so when taking into consideration that it took place under the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some observers have argued that South Korean politics might be transitioning from a conservative/liberal two-party system to a liberal-predominant party system, like the conservative LDP-predominant party system that existed in Japan during the Cold War. However, if we look at voter turnout for candidates in single-seat constituencies, it was 49.9 percent for the liberal ruling party and 41.5 percent for the conservative opposition party, hardly a crushing difference. Moreover, in proportional representation constituencies, the other conservative opposition party actually finished first with 33.8 percent, leading the other liberal with 33.4 percent, a low figure even when accounting for the split in the liberal group.

Given these numbers, it is premature to conclude that we are at the start of an era dominated by a single party. Indeed, it is worth remembering that conservative votes accounted for more than 60 percent of the results in the 2007 presidential election 13 years ago, giving the conservatives a landslide win over their liberal opponents, despite a split between the conservative candidates, and bringing about a change of government.

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Democracy wins over Covid-19 pandemic

Even the Coronavirus disease (Covid)-19 has no match for the South Korean voters when they turned out to vote for the members of their National Assembly. 66.21% of the 43.99 million voters went out to cast their votes despite the ongoing pandemic — the highest turnout since 1992.

The National Assembly elections in the country is a combination of first-past-the-post elections for the 253 constituencies and proportional party list system for the 47 members of the parliament. The liberal Democratic Party bagged 163 of the seats while its satellite party, the Together Citizen’s Party, won 17 seats. Together they occupy 180 or 60% of the 300 National Assembly seats.

Meanwhile, the conservatives made their worst performance since 1960 with the United Future Party and its satellite Future Korea Party gaining only 103 seats.

With the election results, the liberals are seen to have the freehand to legislate anything other than constitutional amendments. Being a mid-term elections, the results also reaffirm the leadership of South Korean President, Moon Jae-In.

Allocation of seats in the new electoral system
Red: 253 constituency seats under first-past-the-post
Blue: 30 proportional seats under the compensatory additional member system
Green: 17 proportional seats under the parallel voting system
Source: King Wither