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South Korean National Assembly Elections: Setting the Stage for the Presidential Race

by Scott A. Snyder
April 9, 2012

Han Myeong-sook, chairwoman of the main opposition Democratic United Party and Rhyu Si-min, co-chair of the Unified Progressive Party attend a joint election campaign of the two opposition parties in Seoul. (Courtesy Reuters/Kim Hong-ji)


South Korean voters go to the polls on April 11 to choose a new National Assembly. I invited Ma Sang-yoon of the Catholic University of Korea and currently a visiting scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center to provide a primer on the elections, which you can read here.

Professor Ma explains how the National Assembly elections are a backdrop for the December South Korean presidential elections, and highlights issues relevant to the future of U.S.-ROK relations. Ma explains that the National Assembly elections have focused primarily on social issues, combined with a high degree of mudslinging and attacks between the ruling and opposition camps over character issues.

Pre-election polling has shown a strong generational divide, with the ruling party gaining support from older voters and the opposition party gaining support from younger voters. Many analysts have identified strength of turnout as a critical variable that could influence the outcome, with higher turnout being an indicator that more younger voters are participating in the election.

South Korean election analysts are showing mixed views regarding the likely outcome, with Korea University’s Lee Nae-young anticipating a slim victory of 10-20 seats for the opposition (in line with Ma’s prediction in our essay), while Myungji University’s Shin Yul predicts that the ruling party will eke out a 10-seat victory.

The latest Korea Realmeter polls have Park Geun-hye enjoying an eight week rise in popularity,  and reestablishing herself as the presidential favorite when voters must choose between her and all the candidates. However, combined support for opposition candidates is still higher than Park’s support in those polls, and she still lags behind IT entrepreneur Ahn Chulsoo in popularity when voters need only to choose between the two. South Korea’s political environment is known for its volatility; even if the National Assembly elections provide a preliminary indicator regarding potential victors in the December presidential race, it is too early to make a safe prediction as to who will lead South Korea in 2013.



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