Setback for Yoon

The heated race for the 10 April general elections in South Korea ended with a landslide victory of the opposition bloc against President Yoon Suk Yeol’s governing People Power Party (PPP).

Setback for Yoon

Photo: SNS

The heated race for the 10 April general elections in South Korea ended with a landslide victory of the opposition bloc against President Yoon Suk Yeol’s governing People Power Party (PPP). The election outcome is a setback for Yoon as it would significantly impact his remaining three years in office. With his PPP securing only 108 out of 300 seats in the National Assembly, Yoon is poised to be relegated to the status of a lame-duck president. The main opposition Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) clinched a landslide victory in significantly outperforming its rival, the conservative ruling PPP.

The victory solidifies the position of the liberal party and establishes an even larger opposition-dominated Assembly for the next four years. The DPK managed to win 175 seats out of 300. Broken down, this works out as 161 constituency wins plus 14 proportional representation seats secured by its satellite party, the Democratic United Party (DUP). The PPP obtained a total of 108 seats, including 18 gained through proportional representation by its satellite party, the People Future Party (PFP). This marks the third consecutive victory for the main opposition DPK, following the general elections held in 2016 when it was the main opposition and 2020 when it was the ruling party. The Rebuilding Korea Party (RKP) is a minor progressive party launched in March.

Led by former Justice Minister Cho Kuk, it secured 12 seats through the proportional representation system. This marked a successful debut in its first election. Among other minor parties, the Reform Party led by former PPP leader Lee Jun-seok obtained three seats, the Saemirae Party, headed by former DPK Chairman Lee Nak-yon, and the Jinbo Party, secured one seat each. The opposition parties collectively secured over 190 seats. It was close to the exit poll forecast of 200 seats for the opposition bloc. The voter turnout this time hit a 32-year high at 67 per cent.


Had the exit poll forecast of 200 seats come true, President Yoon’s power would have been substantially clipped as it would have neutralised his veto power. Yet 190 is not a small number as the broader opposition bloc can still exert collective power over Yoon through concerted legislative action. The opposition still shall have the ability to fasttrack bills, shortening the deliberation process, thereby making plenary voting faster than that of other bills. For this, they would need support from at least three-fifths of the total Assembly members. With the support of 180 lawmakers, they can halt a filibuster, a procedural delaying tactic often used by politicians.

What does this resounding victory by the opposition bloc mean for Yoon’s political future? Not only does it hint at a bleak future for Yoon, the win also boosts prospects of the DPK chief’s next presidential bid. The elections this time were considered as a critical referendum for Yoon, who is approaching his two-year mark in office in May 2024. With this defeat, Yoon becomes the first-ever President in Korea’s current presidential system, established in 1987, to face an opposition-controlled Assembly throughout his entire five-year term which began in May 2022.

There could also be more risks of legislative setbacks to the government’s budgetary and policy agendas. The RKP by securing 12 seats at its debut and openly speaking against Yoon government’s “prosecutorial tyranny” now could play a critical role in legislative matters and parliamentary votes. Taking responsibility for his party’s loss, the PPP’s interim leader Han Dong-hoon announced his resignation. As a political novice, Han had assumed the role of the PPP’s interim leader in December 2023 after stepping down from the post of justice minister.

He had no option than to apologize to the people for falling short of public expectations. His plans remain unknown at the moment, though he remains committed to the promises made to the public. The Yoon government’s diminished standing coinciding with the birth of an unprecedentedly massive opposition bloc signals a resounding message. Yoon needs to have the grace to accept the election outcome as a stern judgment and referendum on both himself and the PPP. Hereafter, he needs to redouble efforts towards meaningful change.

As an immediate measure, Yoon pledged to initiate sweeping reforms within the presidential office by announcing a significant reshuffle of his staff. However, Yoon himself should start first to change people’s perception that his approach to governance is unilateral and rooted in an authoritarian style of leadership. People feel that he is an uncommunicative leader. After this defeat, Yoon needs to learn the lesson and embrace collaboration with opposition parties to garner their support in addressing the challenges facing the country.

With the PPP chairman Han Dong-hoon already having resigned, assuming responsibility for the election defeat, Prime Minister Han Duck-soo and presidential secretaries also expressed their intentions to resign. This will escalate an inhouse standoff between proYoon members and those on the other side. With Yoon’s reputation having nosedived because of a perceived faulty governance style, coinciding with the opposition’s brute majority in the Assembly, South Korea’s politics is likely to plunge into a period of extreme uncertainty. It is imperative for all the political parties to adopt a cooperative and accommodative approach irrespective of political differences and join hands to make concerted efforts for national unity.

Besides serious foreign policy issues, there are many domestic issues that need to be addressed and resolved. Concerted efforts are needed to find proper solutions to the economic issues that transcend the political and ideological standoff. Other critical issues are solutions to a low birth rate and an aging society. Medical, education and pension reforms also need urgent attention.

To ensure sustainable growth of the nation and address all such issues, what is needed is inter-party cooperation in a harmonious manner. Yoon has another three years in office. He needs to make an extra effort to change his own style of governance and thereby bring in change in peoples’ perception, while humbly accepting the election defeat. Yoon needs to keep in mind that he and his party will surely face the same fate in the forthcoming presidential and general elections unless they usher dramatic change in the approach.

(The writer is former senior fellow at Pradhanmantri memorial museum and library New Delhi)