President Moon Jae-In Wins Big Mandate in Historic South Korean Elections

“President Moon Jae-In Wins Big Mandate in Historic South Korean Elections,” published in The National Interest on April 15, 2020

The ruling Democratic Party of Korea won an unprecedented landslide in South Korea’s 21st General Election, held April 15. Not only did the Democrats win an outright majority, they are close to winning a 60 percent supermajority.

After three years of slow economic growth in which President Moon Jae-in’s diplomatic efforts with North Korea went nowhere, Moon’s popularity had fallen from the high 70’s to the mid-40’s in early 2020. It looked like he might be set to follow the same trend as previous Korean presidents, lapsing into lame duck status in the final two years of his presidency.

But the coronavirus changed everything. With South Korea using aggressive to test and trace measures, widespread monitoring, and imposing strict quarantine measures on foreign travelers, it flattened the curve faster than almost any other country. As a result, Moon’s popularity rose above 50 percent before the election. Now the Democrats have won more seats than even the most audacious analysts predicted.

As of 1 am Korea time, Korea’s public broadcaster Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) projected the Democratic Party to be on track to win about 174 seats, while the opposition United Future Party (UFP) would win about 109. The target for a super-majority is 180 seats. Projections leave only about 17 seats for minor parties and independents, a huge drop from the 55 seats won by all third-party candidates in 2016.

The partisan-regional divide was exacerbated. The Democrats dominated the west side of Korea, while the UFP painted the east pink. The Democrats are expected to win nearly 100 of the 122 seats in the Seoul Capital Area, which consists of the city of Seoul, Incheon, and the Seoul suburbs in surrounding Gyeonggi province.

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