03/01/2022, 12.40
SOUTH KOREA
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Yoon, the former prosecutor who wants to start a new chapter for Seoul

by Guido Alberto Casanova

The March 9th presidential elections will be a head-to-head contest in which the conservative candidate aims to archive the Moon era. Less public and more private in the economy, a revival of nuclear energy industry, and the elimination of the Ministry of Gender Equality are among the points on his programme.

Seoul (AsiaNews) - On March 9th South Korea will elect a new president. The latest polls estimate the result to be a head-to-head contest between the Democratic candidate, Lee Jae-myung, and the Conservative one, Yoon Seok-youl. Although by a narrowing margin, Yoon has come first in almost every survey in recent weeks.

Yoon's political career is the story of a meteoric rise. The opposition candidate was South Korea's attorney general until last March. Known for leading the investigation that led to the deposition of conservative President Park Geun-hye in 2017, Yoon was given the post of attorney general by democrat Moon Jae-in in 2019. However, there was no honeymoon between the two: the new attorney-general wasted no time and immediately started targeting members of the democratic government involved in scandals, triggering a guerrilla war between the presidency and the attorney-general's office. This institutional conflict lasted until last year, when Yoon resigned and decided to enter politics.

His efforts to defend the institution's independence from Moon's reform proposals brought the Conservative Party closer to Yoon, who became a member last summer and went on to win the party's primary election and become the Conservative candidate for president in November.

However, being the new man in South Korean politics also has its complications. Yoon has no experience as a politician, and it is difficult to assess his ability to administer public affairs. However, his electoral programme is largely based on a review of the policies of Moon's government, particularly in the real estate sector where prices have spiralled out of control in recent years.

In terms of economic policy, Yoon proposes a reversal of the measures of the current democratic government. Criticising Moon's excessively dirigiste approach (e.g. the introduction of the Korean New Deal), the conservative candidate emphasised the role of the private sector in driving the post-Covid economic recovery. Yoon has promised to leave the initiative to businesses, ensuring they have financial and regulatory support to innovate and create new jobs. To this end, the policy on minimum wage increases and the reduction of the working week, two policies adopted by Moon, should also be revised in the direction of greater flexibility.

On energy policy, Yoon has already expressed scepticism about whether the current government's eco-sustainability targets will be met by 2050. To cope with the country's growing energy demand, Yoon said he wanted to revive nuclear energy production, a sector that the democratic government had seemed intent on dismantling in recent years.

On the subject of social policies, Yoon's proposal to abolish the Ministry for Gender and Family Equality, which he accused of deepening divisions between men and women, caused much debate. The proposal, launched on Facebook, is part of the intense cultural conflict within South Korean society, animated by the indifference of many young men to the demands of feminism. In fact, the conservative party aims to use young South Koreans in their 20s and 30s as its electoral base.

What is striking, however, is that in this election campaign political programmes have never really entered into public debate. More than the proposals, it was the bickering, the mutual accusations and the sensationalistic communication that attracted attention. In a way, this electoral logic plays into Yoon's hands. Without ever having to go into the details of his programme, the conservative candidate could enjoy a fair amount of leeway should he be elected.

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