Yoon Suk-yeol wins tightest race to become Korea’s president
Yoon, the first former prosecutor to be elected president, stressed a message of national unity and cooperation with the opposition in a speech at the National Assembly in Yeouido, western Seoul, shortly after his victory was confirmed early Thursday morning.
In Korea's closest presidential election, frontrunners Yoon and Lee Jae-myung of the ruling Democratic Party (DP) were neck-and-neck in exits polls Wednesday evening, making a victor too close to call until nearly all the votes were tallied around 4 a.m.
With 100 percent of the ballots counted a little past 6 a.m., Yoon had 48.56 percent of votes and Lee 47.83 percent, 0.73 percentage points less than Yoon, according to the National Election Commission (NEC). Sim Sang-jeung, presidential candidate for the minor progressive Justice Party, trailed with 2.37 percent.
Yoon won 16,394,815 out of 34,067,853 votes cast in Korea’s 20th presidential election, 247,077 more than Lee.
“Rather than a victory of the PPP or [electoral ally] Ahn Cheol-soo’s People’s Party, I believe today's result is a victory of the great people,” said Yoon.
“Now that the competition is over, we must all work together to become one for the people and the Republic of Korea,” he said. He promised to respect the Constitution and parliament, and “serve the people while cooperating with the opposition.”
After spending the night monitoring the vote count from his home in Seongnam, Gyeonggi, the DP’s Lee conceded defeat and congratulated Yoon in a statement read at his party headquarters in Yeouido at around 3:50 a.m. He added that his defeat was his responsibility alone.
Shortly afterward, Yoon departed from his home in Seocho-dong, southern Seoul, where he thanked supporters outside who had been there for hours, before heading to the National Assembly, where his campaign had been monitoring the vote count.
Two exit polls released immediately after voting ended at 7:30 p.m. showed a dead heat, with less than 1 percentage point differences between the two presidential candidates. In both polls, the difference was within the margin of error.
In an exit poll jointly conducted by the three terrestrial broadcasters, KBS, MBC and SBS, Yoon scored 48.4 percent compared to Lee's 47.8 percent. The margin of error was plus or minus 0.8 percentage points. Sim trailed with 2.5 percent.
The poll surveyed 73,297 voters at 330 polling stations nationwide and had a 95 percent confidence level.
An exit poll conducted by JTBC, an affiliate of the JoongAng Ilbo, gave Lee 48.4 percent compared to Yoon's 47.7 percent. The margin of error was plus or minus 1.2 percentage points. Sim received 2.5 percent.
The JTBC exit poll had a 95 percent confidence level.
Neither exit poll reflected votes from Covid-19 patients and quarantined voters, who voted from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. after all other voters.
Voter turnout was 77.1 percent out of a total of 44,197,692 voters eligible for the 20th presidential election, according to the National Election Commission (NEC).
That was just short of the 77.2 percent turnout in the 2017 snap presidential election, which resulted in the victory of President Moon Jae-in after the impeachment and ouster of his predecessor, Park Geun-hye. Despite anticipation that there would be particularly high turnout after record early voting turnout of 36.93 percent of all registered voters last Friday and Saturday, Wednesday's note didn't hit 80 percent, a turnout last reached in 1997.
Turnout was highest in Gwangju, at 81.5 percent, followed by South Jeolla (81.1 percent), North Jeolla (80.6 percent) and Sejong (80.3 percent). Seoul's turnout was 77.9 percent, Gyeonggi's 76.7 percent and Incheon's 74.8 percent.
Voters cast their ballots at 14,464 polling stations nationwide, either from 6 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday or, for people with Covid-19 or undergoing quarantine, from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. A revision to the election law allowed the extension of voting hours due to the pandemic.
Ballots were transferred to 251 counting stations after voting closed at 7:30 p.m. and tallying began shortly after 8 p.m.
There were 12 presidential candidates.
Lee and Yoon were in a tight race through most of the campaign, far ahead of the other two major candidates, Justice Party's Sim and Ahn Cheol-soo of the minor opposition People's Party. Ahn withdrew from the presidential race last Thursday and supported Yoon in a last-minute alliance with the PPP, after ballot papers had already been printed.
Both frontrunners broke the norm in that they do not come from a parliamentary background. Most previous presidential candidates have had experience as lawmakers in the National Assembly.
Yoon, 61, is a complete political rookie who hails from a public prosecutor background. He became the unlikely conservative presidential nominee after winning the PPP primary last November.
A son of educators, Seoul-born Yoon studied law at the prestigious Seoul National University and passed the bar exam on his ninth try.
Yoon served as prosecutor general in President Moon Jae-in's administration from 2019 to May 2021 and is recognized for successfully pursuing high-profile corruption and abuse of power cases involving figures from the previous administrations of Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye. He played a role in convicting Park in her impeachment trial.
After stepping down as prosecutor general just over one year ago, Yoon declared his presidential bid in June and joined the PPP in July.
He campaigned for a change in government, championing fairness and justice.
Yoon promised to abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, intended to appeal to young male voters in their 20s and 30s who are turned off by feminism. He has called for a slimmed-down Blue House, and a move of the presidential office to Gwanghwamun in central Seoul.
Lee, a former Gyeonggi governor and Seongnam mayor, in contrast, had promised to be a "competent and pragmatic president," partly to distinguish himself from the inexperienced Yoon.
The presidential campaign, however, was mostly defined by personal attacks and mudslinging.
It has even been dubbed the "most unlikeable" election ever, with people voting for the presidential hopeful they disliked least.
Lee was accused of involvement in the Daejang-dong land development project, which was conducted while Lee served as mayor of Seongnam in Gyeonggi in 2015.
The wives of both candidates became controversial figures and liabilities.
Yoon's wife, Kim Keon-hee, faced accusations of falsified job credentials on her résumés when applying for teaching jobs at universities and allegations of stock manipulation. Lee's wife, Kim Hye-kyung, was accused of forcing civil servants to do personal errand and misuse of corporate credit cards when her husband was Gyeonggi governor. The couple was also criticized for apparent belief in shamanism.
Both wives issued public apologies in the weeks leading up to the election.
In previous elections, spouses of candidates were rarely factors in campaigns.
After campaigning late into the night in Seoul Tuesday, the frontrunners watched the vote count from their homes Wednesday, with Lee in his residence in Seongnam, and Yoon in his in Seocho-dong, southern Seoul.
Lee cast his ballot in advance in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul, on Friday, during the two-day early voting period. His wife cast her vote separately near their home on election day.
Yoon cast his early ballot in Busan on Friday, while his wife cast hers on the same day near their home in Seoul.
BY SARAH KIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]