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South Korea General Election: What Do the Results Mean?

The President's party lost 6 seats but the opposition didn't gain a parliamentary supermajority. How will this affect South Korea and Yoon's ability to govern?



South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol casts his vote on April 10. (©South Korean President's official X account)

On April 10, South Korea held its 22nd general election. 

With the highest voter turnout in 32 years, 67% of the eligible constituents visited the polls. They handpicked 300 representatives to serve in the parliament for the next four years. 

Traditionally, South Korea's general election is viewed as a litmus test on the incumbent administration. 

To that end, Wednesday's election was a major setback for President Yoon Suk-yeol and his ruling People Power Party (PPP). The lead opposition Democratic Party (DP) and its coalition, on the other hand, gained a wider majority. 

Overview of the DPP's Win 

The liberal DP and its satellite party previously held 156 seats together in the unicameral 300-member National Assembly. 

This time they secured an additional 19 seats. Meanwhile, the conservative PPP and its satellite party won 108 seats, six down from where they started. Overall, it was a landslide victory for the DP and the opposition coalition.

Theoretically, the opposition coalition includes the Democratic Coalition (DP's satellite party), NRF, NFP, and RKP. When all is said and done, the DP and the coalition, together, have won a majority of 192 seats in the parliament.


South Korea Third-Party Movements on All Sides of the Aisle

In a unique twist, this year's general election was also characterized by a growing third-party movement. 

Then-PPP Chairman Lee Jun-seok and then-Prosecutor General Yoon Suk-yeol walk in the Gwangjin District, Seoul. (©Public Domain)

Lee Jun-seok, the estranged former PPP chief, went on to create the New Reform Party (NRP). His move followed an endless feud with the president and ranking members of the PPP. Despite aspiring to secure seven seats, Lee and NRP won only three. This is the first time Lee has been elected into public office. 

Elsewhere, Lee Nak-young, a former prime minister and ex-DP leader, also left his home base in search of a new path. Lee lost his district race, while his New Future Party (NFP) won a modest single seat.

Long hailed as a formidable minority force, the progressive Green Justice Party (formerly Justice Party) failed to gain any seat in the 22nd parliament. Sim Sang-jung, who had led the team for the last 12 years, came in third in her district race. She announced her retirement from politics on Thursday, April 11.  

However, several familiar names recaptured the spotlight. Cho Kuk, the disgraced former justice minister under Moon Jae In, will make his first debut as a lawmaker in May. Cho's Rebuilding Korea Party (RKP) won 12 seats. It is expected to play a crucial role in challenging Yoon and his governing party.

Cho Kuk addresses a crowd before the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in a general election campaign. (©Cho Kuk Facebook)

What Do the Results Mean?

When President Yoon assumed office in May 2022, he inherited a divided assembly with the opposition DP holding a majority. As a result, Yoon's first two years of office were marked by a legislative stalemate. 

With their majority, the DP and its satellite party were able to pass legislation without the consent of the ruling party. The president, however, exercised his veto power to reject bills that were not in agreement with his administration and party's policy. 

So far, President Yoon has vetoed nine bills. That is the most of any president since South Korea consolidated its democracy in 1987. 

At the same time, the DP and its coalition were unable to secure a supermajority of 200 seats in Wednesday's election. Therefore, the deadlock is expected to persist. In South Korea, a supermajority can override a presidential veto, introduce and pass articles of impeachment against the president, and reform the constitution. 

The Yoon administration's hallmark foreign policies will probably remain intact as many do not require approval from the parliament. However, domestic policies will continue to be in limbo.   


It remains to be seen whether the opposition could marshal support from the ruling PPP to expand its coalition. If it did so, it could compel the presidential office to expedite the enactment of selected legislation. 

Why Did PPP Lose Momentum? 

Polls before the election consistently projected a neck-and-neck race between the two major parties. 

So why did the PPP perform so poorly? 

One cause can be attributed to the so-called "Han Dong-hoon effect." Han Dong-hoon, widely considered Yoon's right-hand man, relinquished his justice minister position in December 2023 to take command as the PPP's interim leader. 

Many in conservative circles hedged their bets on Han, a young and articulate former prosecutor. They hoped he would regroup the party ahead of the tight election. Despite initial successes at resuscitating the president and his party's sluggish ratings, the interim leader failed to live up to voters' expectations.

President Yoon's inadequate responses to scandals surrounding First Lady Kim Keon-hee are also to blame. Notably in January, the president crushed a bill seeking a special counsel probe against Kim over stock price manipulation allegations. That was notwithstanding strong calls for him to refrain from vetoing the bill. 

Kim has also been accused of inappropriately receiving a luxury handbag from a family friend last November. The story soon caught national headlines and dented the president's ratings. 

Ineffective remedies for spiking prices, striking doctors, and failure to compromise with the opposition on domestic policies were also sources of PPP's underperformance. 


Forecasting the South Korea 2027 Presidential Election 

Several analysts accurately predicted that the April 10 election would be of little significance unless the DP achieved a supermajority or the PPP gained control of the legislature. 

Nevertheless, it is noteworthy in that the election is regarded as a bellwether for the upcoming 2027 presidential race. 

Opposition leader Lee Jae-myung addresses his supporters in his campaign on March 19. (©Lee Jae-myung Facebook)

After the vote count on Wednesday, Lee Jae-myung and Cho Kuk were the clear victors. Both came out strong and they elevated their political positions despite the doubts of many. They are expected to work hand-in-hand in the new parliament but simultaneously compete against each other for the 2027 presidency. 

By contrast, the Yoon government and his party are stuck in crisis mode for the foreseeable future. Before PPP's devastating loss, Han was considered a viable candidate for the next presidential nominee. But after his failed efforts at revitalizing his party, Han's political career remains in serious doubt. 

Though still early to tell, Lee Jun Seok may return to conservative turf by the next presidential election as a possible contender, depending on his performance as a first-term lawmaker. 


Author: Kenji Yoshida