Challenges for YoonYoon Suk-yeol of the opposition People Power Party (PPP) has been elected as the 20th president after beating his rival Lee Jae-myung of the ruling Democratic Party (DP) in the narrowest margin of 48.56 percent versus 47.83 percent. The turnout ratio of 77.1 percent was one of the strongest despite a raging Covid-19 wave with 300,000 new daily infection cases.
Yoon won the election after one of the dirtiest campaign wars. The dislike ratio in both rivalling candidates was the highest. Negative campaigns lasted throughout the election period. The division went deep, with supporters of each candidate vowing to protest if their candidate loses and seek impeachment if their opponent wins.
Yoon vowed to place political and national unity as top priorities, which is necessary as he has to deal with a supermajority opposition in the National Assembly. He must act on his words to serve the people, and not a certain ideology. “I will only watch the people and serve them,” he said as the people of Korea are “citizens who must all be fairly treated” wherever they stand in ideology and class.
After elected president five years ago, Moon Jae-in also promised that he would serve every citizen regardless of whom had voted for him. Yoon must match his words with actions.
Yoon has been elected through less than half of the votes from eligible voters. He must pay attention to the voices of the other half and reflect them in governance. He must abandon some of the mighty presidential powers. He should be all-inclusive in cabinet formation instead of keeping to campaign aides and must be open to other opinions as he has no experience in legislative politics.
Yoon needs all the help possible as the country faces hardship on both the external and domestic fronts. As underscored from the divisive election results, regionalism and conflict across gender and class have deepened. Gender conflict must be dealt by the new president. Other urgent domestic tasks are stabilization of the real estate market, delayed pension reforms, deregulation and copying with demographic challenges from the world’s lowest birth rate and fastest aging.
External challenges have been aggravated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. North Korea has been ratcheting up missile provocation. The U.S.-led sanctions on Russia have sent crude and commodity prices to further batter the global supply chains. Inflation has been sweeping globally as a result of ultra-loose monetary policies to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. The jump in oil prices, won-dollar exchange rate, and interest rates are hardening the country with high reliance on commodity imports and record-level government debts.
The president-elect must shift mode from a campaigner to a humble statesman. He must revisit his campaign platforms to check if they are still viable.