SEOUL — South Koreans head to the polls Wednesday to vote in one of the crucial tightly fought presidential elections in latest reminiscence, with a number of coverage points — North Korea and sky-high home prices; gender inequality and a decaying job market — roiling voters.
According to pre-election surveys, the race is a detailed contest between Lee Jae-myung, of President Moon Jae-in’s Democratic Party, and Yoon Suk-yeol, a former prosecutor representing the conservative opposition, the People Power Party.
The election comes as South Korea is projecting influence around the world like by no means earlier than. The small nation of simply over 50 million folks has lengthy punched above its weight in manufacturing and know-how, however extra lately has added film, television and music to its record of profitable world exports.
At dwelling, nonetheless, voters are sad.
Housing costs are out of attain. A demographic disaster has left farms and small factories struggling to seek out staff, at the same time as legions of individuals recent out of school complain a few lack of job alternatives. Discrimination in opposition to foreigners is on the rise. Young folks say they’ll’t catch a break. And the extraordinary uncertainty, partly brought on by years of Covid restrictions, has left many anxious concerning the future.
“There is a growing angst over the future of the country as inequality deepened and gender and generational conflicts intensified,” mentioned Eom Kyeong-young, director at the Zeitgeist Institute in Seoul. Whoever turns into the following president should deal with a bitter and disillusioned public.
Mr. Lee is a straight-talking former sweatshop employee and human rights lawyer with a repute for delivering outcomes as a preferred mayor and governor in Gyeonggi-do, the province that surrounds Seoul. He says South Korea wants a pacesetter from a working-class background who “shines during crises.”
Mr. Yoon, a former prosecutor, was instrumental in imprisoning two former presidents, in addition to the head of Samsung, on corruption costs. His political inventory rose after he resigned as prosecutor normal final 12 months and have become an outspoken critic of Mr. Moon’s tenure.
Both candidates have struggled to attach with voters and led campaigns marred by scandal.
New allegations hold rising that forged doubt on the moral requirements of each males and their households, together with of corruption, nepotism and sexism. “This is a contest between the unlikable, a choice of who is the lesser evil,” mentioned Ahn Byong-jin, a political scientist at Kyung Hee University in Seoul.
They additionally maintain drastically totally different coverage positions, notably on North Korea, which has lately launched a collection of weapons tests that have threatened regional security.
During his administration, Mr. Moon brokered the historic conferences between President Donald J. Trump and Kim Jong-un, the chief of North Korea. His signature coverage ambition was to build peace with North Korea through dialogue and cooperation, an agenda Mr. Lee would inherit if elected.
“The key to our policy on the Korean Peninsula is to prevent war from breaking out again and to prevent the loss of millions of lives and everything we have achieved so far,” Mr. Lee mentioned throughout a latest marketing campaign occasion.
Mr. Yoon favors of a extra confrontational stance, reflecting a preferred view amongst older conservatives. He has known as North Korea the nation’s “principal enemy” and threatened “pre-emptive strikes.”
Politics in South Korea have lengthy been thought of a blood sport. The nation’s hard-won democracy got here after many years of poverty, political unrest and successive dictatorships. All former presidents have confronted allegations of corruption in retirement.
The two most up-to-date former presidents ended up in jail, together with Park Geun-hye, the nation’s first and solely feminine president. Two former military-backed dictators have been additionally imprisoned.