The 2022 election in South Korea: The politics of resentment and revenge confirms older trends and cleavages and reveals new one

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

The March 2022 presidential election in South Korea marked the end of an acrimonious campaign, mostly devoid of substantive policy discussion. Voters’ preferences fluctuated heavily during the campaign, making the outcome uncertain until the very end. The two leading candidates, Yoon Suk-yeol of the People Power Party and Lee Jae-myung of the Democratic Party, were party outsiders with no prior political experience in the National Assembly. Yoon won by less than 1 percent of the vote, with the last-minute coalition formed with the third candidate Ahn Cheol-soo of the People Party likely tilting the balance in his favor.
The election was defined by deepening inequalities in Korean society which have fueled popular resentment against the elites and growing anger, especially among the youth, over lack of job opportunities and fairness in the labor market.
This article contends that the recent election confirmed long-term trends prevalent in South Korean politics, such as the personalization of politics and intra-party factionalism, as well as the centrality of pre-electoral coalitions. In addition, gender, generation, and class have emerged as new cleavages in the past couple of decades, replacing older political cleavages such as region and ideology.
The new administration, currently leading a minority government with only 109 seats in the National Assembly compared to the opposition Democratic Party’s 168 seats, faces substantial domestic challenges at home, including the need to steer a post-pandemic economic recovery. Internationally, it will need to navigate a complex and fraught environment, marked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, intensifying U.S.-China great power competition, and renewed tensions with North Korea.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14-22
Number of pages9
JournalGeorgetown Journal of Asian Affairs
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jul 2022

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • South Korea
  • elections
  • president
  • factionalism
  • intra-party politics
  • gender
  • inequalities
  • polarization
  • resentment
  • class
  • coalition
  • negative campaigning


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