Legislative poll is a vote for politicians S. Koreans dislike least | World News - Hindustan Times
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Legislative poll is a vote for politicians S. Koreans dislike least

AFP |
Apr 09, 2024 02:49 PM IST

Legislative poll is a vote for politicians S. Koreans dislike least

An unpopular incumbent president and a scandal-plagued opposition leader. Two former justice ministers, one a fallen star and the other a neophyte.

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South Koreans will vote Wednesday to decide on 300 members of parliament, but also which politician they dislike least.

AFP looks at the four politicians who are key figures even though they're not personally on the ballot:

Having won the 2022 presidential election by the narrowest margin in South Korean history, Yoon's time in office has been stymied by low approval ratings and an opposition-controlled legislature.

A former prosecutor and political novice, he shot to public attention for his uncompromising investigations of high-profile corruption scandals.

He's charted new directions in foreign policy as president but his administration has failed to deliver at home.

His lack of popularity is partly a result of the "lack of real progress on domestic political and economic issues", Andrew Yeo, a politics professor at the Catholic University of America, told AFP.

"Prices and inflation remain high, housing is expensive, and political polarisation remains high."

South Korean presidents are elected separately but experts say Yoon will struggle to implement his agenda for the rest of his term, which ends in 2027, if his People Power Party fails to win back control of parliament.

Lee lost the 2022 presidential election to Yoon but is widely expected to run again in 2027, despite facing a slew of probes into alleged corruption, including over purported illicit fund transfers to North Korea. He denies all charges and trials are ongoing.

A rarity among politicians in status-obsessed South Korea, former child factory worker Lee rose to become a presidential contender by telling voters his working-class roots equipped him to fight inequality.

He was stabbed in the neck in January by a man pretending to be a supporter and has denounced South Korea's "politics of hate" while continuing to attack Yoon and the PPP.

Lee would be seen "as the most likely next president" if his party wins by a landslide on Wednesday, Vladimir Tikhonov, professor of Korean Studies at the University of Oslo, told AFP.

Lee has made remarks that his critics have labelled as "pro-China" and his party has favoured a less hawkish approach towards Pyongyang.

This will bring headaches for the United States because Lee is "much less likely to follow Washington with the same blindness as Yoon", Tikhonov said.

"He will be a tougher negotiating partner."

Once a rising political star, former justice minister Cho Kuk was tipped to run for president before an academic admissions scandal in 2019 engulfed his family. Yoon led the investigation.

After falling from grace and being sentenced to jail an appeal is pending he has made a dramatic comeback this election season.

He launched the Rebuilding Korea Party last month and, with a fiercely anti-government platform, the party has been polling strongly.

Cho "was a very popular figure before his fall from grace and still commands a 'fandom' among liberal voters", Gi-Wook Shin, a sociology professor at Stanford University, told AFP.

His rise also shows that many opposition supporters are disappointed with its current leadership, Shin said.

The rise of a third party "sends a message that people think the two main parties don't really represent them", said Linda Hasunuma, a political scientist at Temple University.

"He is the protest vote."

PPP leader Han Dong-hoon, a former star prosecutor, worked alongside Yoon on high-profile financial crimes and corruption cases, including the sale of now-defunct Korea Exchange Bank to Texas-based US private equity firm Lone Star Funds that resulted in a decade-long dispute.

Known for his tenacious and uncompromising style, he has conducted investigations into cases involving leaders of chaebols the family-controlled conglomerates that are pivotal to South Korea's economy including Chey Tae-won of SK Group and Lee Jae-yong of Samsung Electronics.

He became justice minister under Yoon but resigned to take up the leadership of the PPP, where he is widely popular with the party's conservative base. He is not running in the elections because the party leader does not have to be a sitting lawmaker.

Critics accuse him of political bias and employing aggressive prosecutorial tactics that may not be suitable for the political arena.

Han's "popularity among the conservative wing of society represents its understanding of Lee and Cho being 'corrupt, hypocritical'," Byunghwan Son, a global affairs professor at George Mason University, told AFP.

He is an "antithesis to the Democratic Party" but his lack of political experience means he has a lot to prove and "his political stature would be easily threatened if PPP loses the election by a large margin", Son said.

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This article was generated from an automated news agency feed without modifications to text.

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