AKBC E-newsletter Presidential Election Edition

Dear AKBC members,

Today, South Koreans will elect their next President for a single five-year team The vote is taking place against the backdrop of the Russia–Ukraine war, which is entering its 14th day and has already seen more than 1.7 million people flee since the invasion, according to the United Nations.

As Korean voters head to the polls, candidates from the ruling and major opposition party have been running neck and neck for weeks despite having very different visions for Korea.

The candidate from the ruling liberal Democratic Party is Lee Jae-myung. The 57-year-old former Gyeonggi provincial governor, was chosen as the candidate to succeed incumbent President Moon Jae-in. As an advocate for the working class and the expansion of public welfare, Lee is promising to solve Korea’s growing inequality and slowing economy and has said he aspires to be a “successful Bernie Sanders”.

Vying for the Presidency is the candidate from the opposition conservative People Power Party, Yoon Suk-yeol. While a newcomer to politics, 61-year-old Yoon was formerly the country’s top public prosecutor and helped convict then President Park Geun-hye, which led to her impeachment in 2016. Where a Lee Presidency would rely on government-led solutions, Yoon in contrast is promising market-led solutions with deregulation and minimal government intervention on his agenda.

The stark differences continue in both candidates’ foreign policy platforms – neither of whom have prior experience in the field – and reflect long-standing party positions. Lee offers continuity, maintaining the delicate balancing act between the United States and China. A Yoon Presidency on the other hand would see closer alignment with the US to help denuclearise North Korea, which in itself, would be an about-face on inter-Korean foreign policy.

While Yoon’s campaign was helped by the withdrawal of Ahn Cheol-soo who offered an alternative to the main-party candidates and has since announced his support for Yoon, the election remains too close to call.

Regardless of the outcome, Korea’s next President will have to quickly deal with the impacts from the Russia-Ukraine war. With roughly 93 per cent of Korean energy consumption derived from imports and the country’s exports already disrupted due to suspended land, air and sea routes to and from Russia, the conflict will demand considered government action. And while the European Union remains divided over Russian oil sanctions, the market’s response has seen Korea’s inflation accelerate to a near decade high, adding pressure on policymakers to raise interest rates in another test for the incoming President.

While it’s still too early to tell the total impact that the conflict will have on Australia-Korea bilateral relations, it clearly underscores the need for close cooperation between our two nations in areas such as defence and energy security.

Yours sincerely,

Liz Griffin

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Australia Korea Business Council
PO Box 24430
Melbourne, Vic 3001 Australia
Liz Griffin – Executive Director

The Australia-Korea Business Council is the leading national body committed to strengthening the Australia-Korea economic relationship.