Two Strongest Rivals to Battle in South Korean Presidential Election, Nearly 60 Percent of Public Supports a Regime Change

By Lisa Bian
Lisa Bian
Lisa Bian
November 8, 2021 Updated: November 8, 2021

With only four months left before the presidential election in South Korea, the People Power Party, the largest opposition party in Korea, recently elected Yoon Seok-youl as the presidential candidate, forming a two-way contest with the ruling party’s candidate Lee Jae-myung. Meanwhile, a Korean poll shows that nearly 60 percent of the public support a change of government.

At the Nov. 5 conference of the People Power Party, Yoon, former chief prosecutor, received 47.85 percent of the votes, defeating three other contenders. Yoon said in his election speech: “This presidential election is not an ordinary one, it is an election for the survival of the country … I will bring about a change in power and end the politics of division and anger, corruption, and plunder,” reported Chosun Media in South Korea.

Yoon, born in 1960, resigned from his position as prosecutor general in March, then entered politics as a newcomer and within eight months was elected as the presidential candidate of Korea’s largest opposition party.

A poll conducted  by People Networks Research on Nov. 7 showed that Yoon’s support rate was 45.8 percent, Lee’s 30.3 percent.

Another two candidates: Ahn Cheol-soo of the People’s Party, has 4.7 percent of the support rate; and Sim Sang-jung of the Justice Party, has 3.2 percent of the rating.

Diplomacy With US and China

In the face of an overall confrontation between the United States and China, the two strongest candidates hold different views on designing diplomacy.

Yoon said in his election speech that he would join the global alliance through the “South Korean-U.S. comprehensive strategic alliance.” He would strengthen cooperation between countries that share democratic values with South Korea.

South Korea-China relations would be repositioned based on the principles of “mutual respect,” “political and economic separation,” and “common interests,” according to Yoon.

Regarding the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD), which includes the United States, Japan, Australia, and India, Yoon said that the country would participate as a formal member after establishing the South Korea-U.S. defense working group.

The QSD is considered to be an agreement to curb Chinese communist influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

While Lee likely seeks a balance between the United States and China, he said that there is no reason to reduce activities with either one of the two big countries, so he will frame capable diplomacy that allows the United States and China to choose to cooperate with Korea.

Lee proposed to conduct practical diplomacy centered on national interests, emphasizing that “South Korea has the ability to cooperate with the U.S. and China in multiple fields at the same time.”

North Korean Problems

On resolving the North Korean nuclear issue, Yoon said he would “set out a predictable policy to restore normal relations with North Korea, which has degenerated into a master-slave relationship.”

Yoon stressed the need to deter North Korea from increasing its nuclear missile capabilities by strengthening the South Korean-U.S. deterrent force. He will initiate economic support and cooperation with North Korea in accordance with “the substantial progress of its denuclearization” and promote the “North-South joint economic development plan” after North Korea denuclearizes.

Lee’s policies are, to some extent, in line with the current government, he said, “we will continue the policy of the Moon Jae-in administration.”

“We will impose conditional relaxation of sanctions and phased actions. The reprieve of the sanctions on North Korea will be a countermeasure to North Korea, but if North Korea does not fulfill the agreement, sanctions will be reinstated.” Lee added.

As for South Korea-Japan relations, both candidates said that they would stand up dignifiedly on historical and territorial issues and then build a “future-oriented” relationship with Japan.

According to a poll released by Gallup Korea on Nov. 5, the People Power Party tops the list with 38 percent support, a record high since April 2016, the ruling Democratic Party is second with 30 percent, while 23 percent of respondents are non-partisan.

In addition, 57 percent of the respondents supported the opposition party’s candidate to be elected as the next president, while 33 percent supported the current ruling party’s candidate to take over the regime.

Lisa Bian