All Shorenstein APARC News Commentary March 10, 2022

South Korean Democracy Under Stress: Yoon Suk-yeol’s Victory Likely to Increase Domestic Polarization

On CNBC's "Squawk Box Asia," APARC Director Gi-wook Shin shares insights about the potential for democratic backsliding and further domestic tension after Yoon Suk-yeol’s victory in the contentious presidential election in South Korea.
South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk-Yeol
South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk-Yeol speaks during a news conference at the National Assembly on March 10, 2022 in Seoul, South Korea. Kim Hong-Ji/Getty Images

Center Director Gi-wook Shin discussed the results of the South Korean presidential election on CNBC's "Squawk Box Asia." 

After a particularly contentious race, conservative People Power Party candidate Yoon Suk-yeol, who won with less than one percent of the popular vote, indicated his resolve to bring unity to the country. Shin, however, is skeptical of the new president's ability to do so, stating "I have been warning about backsliding in Korean democracy...the new president has a lot of challenges to integrate Korean society, [which] has become divisive and highly polarized...We might expect a lot of tensions and fights in the coming years."

"It is one thing to win the election, but [Yoon] still has no experience as a political leader"
Gi-wook Shin

When asked about how domestic political polarization might translate into policymaking, Shin said that Yoon's lack of formal political experience, combined with the opposition party holding control over the legislature, will prove to be a challenge in tackling both domestic and international issues.

"It is one thing to win the election, but [Yoon] still has no experience as a political leader, and Korea has a lot of challenges, a lot of problems internally and also in foreign policy. So will [Yoon] be able to bring unity to Korean society? I hope he could, but frankly speaking, I am skeptical he will be able to."

(L to R) South Korea's presidential candidates, Lee Jae-myung, Ahn Cheol-soo, Sim Sang-jung, and Yoon Suk-yeol pose for photograph ahead of a televised presidential debate at MBC studio on February 21, 2022, Seoul.
Keep up-to-date on the latest analysis of Korea's presidential election and the future of its democracy with APARC's resource page.

Shin has written about South Korea's democratic backsliding and has offered analyses of Korea's presidential election on numerous media outlets. APARC's resource page on the ROK 2022 presidential election and the future of Korean democracy curates these insights and more. Among other media interviews, Shin discussed Yoon's ascendance with AFP, noting that the president-elect "built his reputation as a fierce fighter against power abuse, not a conventional democratic leader who would value negotiation and comprise." 

Yoon became the conservatives' "icon" because he was "seen as the best person to beat the Democratic Party candidate, despite his lack of political leadership experience," Shin said.

"That does not bode well for Korean democracy as we may expect further polarization," he added.

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