South Korea’s Yoon Seeks Majority to End Parliament Deadlock

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All 300 seats are up for grabs in the unicameral parliament known as the National Assembly, and Yoon’s conservative People Power Party is trying to flip more than 30 seats to gain the majority now held by the progressive camp led by the main opposition Democratic Party. The latest polling shows the PPP as the most popular party but its margin may not be enough to wrest control of the body in the election that serves as the only nationwide referendum on Yoon’s government during his single, five-year term.

Key issues for voters include inflation that is eating into paychecks, reining in housing prices and providing strength for the country’s export-driven and slowing economy. Yoon has been trying to end a walkout by doctors that has rattled the health care system before the polls, while North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is stirring the pot with provocations that include a missile launch and overseeing drills for operations that would be used in an invasion.

Here are a few key factors to watch:

Numbers

The most likely scenario is for the Democratic Party-led progressive bloc to keep its majority in parliament, which currently stands at 169 seats, with a few spots being flipped on the margins that do not dramatically upend the status quo. This would mean continued gridlock and compromise between the groups on key items such as the budget. 

To get a majority, the PPP-led bloc would need to pick up 32 seats, a tall order especially with polling showing Yoon’s support rate in the mid 30% level.

If the progressive bloc can secure 180 seats, it can block any attempts to delay a legislative procedure, such as by filibuster. If it reaches 200 seats, it can override any presidential veto and approve impeachment measures, effectively hobbling and perhaps even ending Yoon’s government.

Policies

Yoon and the PPP are looking to: reduce regulations on businesses, take on labor unions, and cut taxes for companies and on real estate transactions. Yoon’s foreign policy initiatives that include closer security cooperation with the US and Japan are likely to stay intact regardless of the results.

The Democratic Party is looking to increase taxes on wealthy individuals and the chaebol conglomerates that dominate the corporate landscape. It also wants to scuttle plans to drop capital gains taxes on income from financial investments.

In the face of rising living costs, the ruling party said it would push to cut taxes on daily necessities, while the Democratic Party has proposed cash handouts, both of which critics say are populist pledges. 

Election

Of the 300 seats, 254 are settled by direct elections in constituencies and the rest are allotted by proportional representation. Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. The term of office for National Assembly members is four years.

In one of the last major polls released ahead of the vote, support was 37% for the PPP ahead of 29% for the main opposition Democratic Party. The Rebuilding Korea Party, a new group that looks set to align itself with the progressive Democratic Party, was in third place at 12%, according to the survey from Gallup Korea, which was conducted among 1,001 respondents nationwide. It said the poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Battlegrounds

The key fights will be in major urban areas such as Seoul, where the Democratic Party won 41 of 49 seats in the last election in 2020. Metro areas account for about 40% of the 300 seats and the Democratic Party took them by about a seven-to-one margin over the main conservative party in 2020, according to the Korea Herald.

Wild Cards

North Korea has a habit of provocations that coincide with elections and Kim’s regime has bristled at Yoon for taking a hard line on Pyongyang. Kim could be looking to stir up tensions to build support for the Democratic Party, which favors rapprochement with Pyongyang.

Cho Kuk, a former justice minister, is seeing a rise in support for his Rebuilding Korea Party, which could grab enough seats to change the dynamics in parliament. Cho, who was a prominent member of a Democratic Party government and forced out of office due to corruption charges, has indicated he could align with his former party, possibly giving it enough seats to reach certain thresholds of power.

–With assistance from Sam Kim and Brian Fowler.

More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.

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Published: 04 Apr 2024, 03:56 AM IST

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