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South Korea elects conservative president amid Covid explosion


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The conservative Yoon Suk-yeol will be the next president of South Korea, shows the results of the close presidential election in the country, held this Wednesday (9). He will take over the government for five years in place of President Moon Jae-in, who cannot run for re-election due to local laws.

Exit polls after polling ended showed Yoon’s lead of just 0.6 percentage points over second-place Lee Jae-myung, from the same party as the current president. There is no second round. Before the end of counting, Lee acknowledged defeat and congratulated the winner.

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Yoon Suk-yeol, 61, a prosecutor who became famous for his role in the case that led to the arrest of former president Park Geun-hye for abuse of power, at one time served as attorney general in the Moon Jae-in government, before breaking with the representative and run for the People’s Power Party.

He wins the election at the worst moment of the Covid-19 pandemic in the country, when Korea averages almost 250,000 new infections and 170 deaths a day, in a devastating wave of the omicron variant.

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To give you an idea, from the beginning of the pandemic until the end of last year, the country had not recorded any day with a daily average of more than 7,000 cases. Thus, the new president will take on a series of challenges, the pandemic being the most immediate of them.

Moon Jae-in, the current leader, was able to successfully contain the spread of the coronavirus and was hoping to take credit for it, but has taken a heavy hit from the recent explosion of cases, says Yong-Chool Ha, a professor of international relations at the University of Washington, in the United States, which helps to explain the expressive vote of the opposition candidate.

Yoon will also have to deal with the increase in domestic debt and a serious real estate crisis, which affects especially young people, with increasing difficulties in buying or renting real estate.

Half of the country’s 52 million people live in the capital, Seoul, or in the metropolitan area, which is already making it expensive to live in the region, and prices are rising rapidly.

The government claims that real estate values ​​have risen 17% on average since the beginning of the Moon administration, but independent research shows that this increase is actually between 75% and 93%. Yoon, the winning candidate, promised to build 2.5 million homes in the next five years in the country.

According to Thiago Mattos, a master in international relations at Uerj, a specialist in South Korea who has lived in the country for four years, the president-elect will also need to balance relations with his neighbors.

Throughout his administration, President Moon Jae-in invested in policies considered more hostile towards Japan, he says, and which had two results: on the one hand, they revived a nationalist sentiment, which still bears the traumas of the period when the Korea was a colony of Japan; on the other hand, it generated economic damage and frustrated a portion of the population, says the researcher.

The relationship with China is also a focus of attention. Moon, in his government, maintained good relations with Beijing, which causes some resistance in the conservative part of the population. The most sensitive point of foreign policy, however, is North Korea. Moon capitalized on pro-unification sentiment and gained popularity by mediating contacts between Trump and Kim Jong-un, but he also saw his approval drop as northern neighbors drifted further and further away and the dictator resumed military tests.

Yoon promises to resume dialogue with North Korea and has been open to giving benefits to Pyongyang if it means a path to denuclearization in the north of the peninsula, but has already argued that preemptive strikes can contain the country if there is information about an imminent attack. .

During the campaign, he said that the best way to solve the problem is to establish a three-way dialogue between South Korea, North Korea and the US. Yoon has already stated that she wants to buy more anti-ballistic missile systems from the US, even at the risk of economic retaliation from China, which claims the system’s radar can reach Chinese territory. He also wants to expand the alliance with Japan and enter the so-called Quad, which involves the US, Australia, Japan and India, which should take him further away from China.

Also in foreign policy, the ongoing war in Ukraine was a theme in the campaign, although it had a smaller impact on results, says Ha. “Voters see structural similarities because they also feel oppressed by great powers and want to learn lessons from what is happening in Ukraine,” says the researcher. “The general public expresses sympathy for the Ukrainian people, perhaps because they find themselves in a similar situation. [com o temor de ser invadida por vizinhos com arsenais nucleares]”.

Finally, analysts also cite the growing polarization in the behavioral agenda in the country as a challenge. “Today, there is a large portion of adult and young men who have increasingly shown themselves to be against progressive agendas, especially feminist ones”, says Mattos.

According to Ha, this election was looking for “a leader who has integrity and a sense of justice.” The reason, he says, is that “many people in Korea believe that the current progressive regime, contrary to what it claims, has not been consistent in fulfilling the principle of justice and equity.” This feeling is particularly strong among people of the so-called MZ generation, 20 to 30 years old. “They feel betrayed by the current government, which came to power after the impeachment of a conservative president.”

In the campaign, the president-elect promised to abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality and the Family and went so far as to claim that feminism was most responsible for the low birth rate in the country.

The election was marked by denunciations and episodes of violence. On Monday (7), the leader of the Democratic Party, the same as President Moon Jae-in, was attacked with axes and hospitalized. Song Young-gil, who was also campaign coordinator for the second most voted candidate, was attacked in Seoul by a 70-year-old man. The attacker has been arrested, and Song is doing well.

The attack came after complaints about early voting, released on Friday and Saturday for the general public, and late Saturday afternoon for voters with Covid, who could leave their homes at 5 pm and should arrive at polling places at 6 pm. . As more than 1 million people are being treated for the disease, according to the country’s authorities, the concentration of voters at the same time caused huge queues of sick people in the cold of temperatures close to 0 ° C.

In addition, voters reported having received ballots that had already been filled out. Even with these problems, anticipation attracted 37% of the electorate. This Wednesday, voters with Covid were also able to leave their homes to vote from 6 pm to 7:30 pm. The rest of voters were able to vote from 6 am to 6 pm.

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