The upcoming South Korean elections to take place on April 15 will be the first conducted under revised election rules. On Dec. 27 2019, South Korea’s National Assembly passed an election reform bill that would lower the voting age to 18 and adopt a proportional representation system. The 2020 elections are not only significant in terms of the systematic changes made to the process, but because the outcomes would have major implications in Seoul’s diplomacy and approach to issues like North Korean denuclearization.
“Insofar as the government ensures that the new voters are informed with access to transparent and accurate information, the reduced voting age is a fair and just change,” said James Kowalski, MUN advisor. “Younger voters tend to vote for socially progressive issues like gender equality and maternity leave, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they vote for policies regarding Korean reunification in the upcoming elections.”
Under the leadership of Yoo Seong-min, eight lawmakers who defected from the minor opposition Bareunmirae Party (BP) launched a new conservative party named the New Conservative Party. According to the Yonhap News Agency, the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) is attempting to join forces with the new party to consolidate a unified conservative bloc to save the country from “turmoil.” Meanwhile, the ruling Democratic Party (DP) expects to lose seats due to the mixed-member proportion system; however, it looks forward to winning local constituency seats and securing the majority of the 300 seats at the National Assembly to enable President Moon to successfully follow through the “candlelight revolution” and lay foundations for a liberal government.
“The elections will be interesting this year, especially because political divisions among parties are increasing,” said Emma Im (10), MUN member. “I think South Korea’s main opposition party will exploit the Cho Guk scandal to undermine President Moon’s credibility. One of the many reforms that they promised was including more constitutional checks on the powers of the president, which is along the lines of calling President Moon out for corruption.”
Though President Moon’s approval ratings rose to 47 percent at the beginning of the year, not all citizens are satisfied with Moon’s political and economic policies. Many conservatives criticize Moon’s reconciliatory measures toward North Korea for being too idealistic: North Korea has a long history of violating international agreements regardless of political incentives, and Kim Jong-un may be using negotiations as a ploy to increase the reputation of his regime. Moreover, the recent outbreak of the coronavirus and the government’s response to the national emergency would also affect the outcome of the elections. According to The Diplomat, residents near a quarantine center expressed their dissatisfaction with the government’s decision to establish the hospital near their communities, as well as its untimely announcement of the 17th and 18th patients. The manner in which Moon effectively responds to the epidemic and secure public safety would play an evident role in his popularity.
“I am keeping up closely with the political dynamics in Korea these days, because I believe this year’s elections could signify a change in our approach toward security issues like North Korea,” said Jaeho Hwang (12), MUN member. “If the DP loses many seats to the strong conservatives, President Moon’s hopes in promoting strong economic ties with North Korea will be dashed. Citizens should pay close attention to how each party prepares to address these important national issues.”