03/10/2022, 11.16
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Seoul: Yoon wins presidential election in a divided country

by Guido Alberto Casanova

The conservative candidate beat rival Lee by a handful of votes. The agreement with Ahn Cheol-soo, another opposition candidate, a few days before the vote, was decisive. "Now is the time to unite" were the first words of the former prosecutor, who has built his political rise on intransigence. But parliament remains in the hands of the democrats.

Seolu (AsiaNews) - Yoon Seok-youl is set to become South Korea's new president when he takes office in the so-called Blue House (the official presidential residence) on May 10. In yesterday's vote, the conservative candidate defeated his Democratic rival, Lee Jae-myung, by a narrow margin of 48.6% to 47.8%, in an electoral contest that appeared undecided and hard-fought until the last vote.

"It was a red-hot and passionate race," Yoon said in his victory speech. "It was the victory of the great [South Korean] people rather than that of me and the People Power Party," Yoon said after the race was decided

The bitterness within the ranks of the Democrats is great. After weeks of polls in which the conservative candidate was ahead by just a few percentage points, the first exit polls last night had raised some hopes: not only had the gap narrowed to less than a percentage point, but JTBC was even showing Lee in the lead. In a brief speech to supporters and journalists, Democratic candidate Lee acknowledged defeat and hoped that Yoon would overcome conflict and follow the 'path of integration and harmony'.

""The competition is over, and it's time to unite for people and the Republic of Korea," he said.  Easier said than done, given the virulence and polarisation that characterised the election campaign. A few hours after the count, the hashtag #immigratetoCanada was trending on Korean-language Twitter, almost mimicking the response many US voters had after Donald Trump's election.

Yoon is an outsider and has made intransigence and controversy a trademark since his time as Attorney General. In the election campaign he did not spare harsh criticism for the Democratic Party, accusing it of harbouring pro-communist fantasies and threatening liberal democracy. In addition, last year Yoon also gave space to the idea that former dictator Chun Doo-hwan had also been a 'good politician' after the bloody suppression of the Gwangju protests in May 1980.

The conservative candidate has also openly tried to ingratiate himself with the growing anti-feminist movement, which is particularly strong among young South Korean males in their 20s and 30s. By proposing to abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality, Yoon has extended his hand to the 79% of 20-year-old South Koreans who responded in a survey last year that they felt discriminated against because they were male. Not surprisingly, 'misogyny' also trended on Twitter in Korea after the winner was announced.

By building a coalition around the loyal base of voters over 60 and the male component of the 20-30-year-old generation, Yoon managed to secure the presidency. Ahn Cheol-soo's abandonment of the electoral race, a minor opposition candidate, was probably also crucial. In an agreement reached as recently as 3 March, Ahn declared his support for Yoon and withdrew his candidature. The next clue to what path the new president intends to take will be to observe the composition of the new government team. But the change of course announced by Yoon will have to deal with parliament, which remains in Democratic hands.

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