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South Korea's opposition wins in landslide parliamentary elections

South Korea's main opposition Democratic Party leader Lee Jae-myung speaks during a ceremony to disband the election camp after the parliamentary election at the party's headquarters in Seoul on April 11, 2024.
JUNG YEON-JE
/
AFP via Getty Images
South Korea's main opposition Democratic Party leader Lee Jae-myung speaks during a ceremony to disband the election camp after the parliamentary election at the party's headquarters in Seoul on April 11, 2024.

SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea's liberal opposition party won a landslide victory in the country's parliamentary elections, putting President Yoon Suk Yeol in a challenging position for the three remaining years of his term.

The main opposition Democratic Party, which already holds majority control, won 175 seats in the 300-member single-chamber parliament of South Korea.

The ruling conservative People Power Party took home 108 seats, becoming an even smaller minority than it is now.

Voter turnout reached 67%, the highest in 32 years for a parliamentary election, according to the National Election Commission.

The outcome is largely interpreted as a judgment on President Yoon, whose approval ratings have stayed below 40% for most of his two years in office.

Public sentiment toward the president and the ruling party has especially soured in the months leading up to the elections amid soaring food prices and a prolonged medical crisis.

Prices of some agricultural products nearly doubled in March, with general consumer prices rising over 3% compared to a year before. Major hospitals have been in an emergency mode since late February as young doctors left jobs over the government's plan to increase medical school enrollment.

Yoon's critics and the opposition party have also attacked Yoon over scandals involving his family and accused him of eroding freedom of expression.

President Yoon said of the election results on Thursday that he will "humbly accept the will of the people" and reform his administration, according to his chief of staff, Lee Kwan-seop.

Yoon's senior aides, including Lee and Prime Minister Han Duck-soo offered to resign to take responsibility for the outcomes.

The ruling PPP's interim chief Han Dong-hoon also stepped down, admitting that his party failed to win people's minds.

The PPP managed to dodge its worst-case scenario, however, with the left-of-center opposition bloc grabbing about a dozen seats short of the two-thirds supermajority, which would have allowed it to override the president's veto power and single-handedly impeach the president or hold a referendum to amend the constitution.

But President Yoon is still expected to lose momentum to pursue some key policies, such as the medical reform and abolishment of the gender equality ministry.

He will likely be pressured by the public and his party to seek cooperation with the DP leader Lee Jae-myung, whom he defeated in the 2022 presidential race by a razor-thin margin. Yoon has refused to sit down for a one-on-one talk with Lee.

The election outcomes can also restrict Yoon's foreign policy agendas, such as strengthening ties with Japan. Yoon's resolution for the thorny issue of forced labor during colonial rule, which is credited for thawing the two governments' relationship, was deeply unpopular at home. He may no longer be able to push ahead with such initiatives.

The new parliament starts its four-year term at the end of May.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Se Eun Gong