How people elect parliaments
South Koreans have chosen a new president – and a new national direction – in an early election.
Former president Park Guen-hya was due to end her five-year term in December 2017, but was impeached and removed from office after a corruption scandal.
According to reported exit polls, Democratic United Party candidate Moon Jae-in has tonight won the office of president, with 41% of the vote in a field of 13 candidates.
Moon, a political liberal who favours limited engagement with North Korea and is skeptical of US-backed military policies, has easily defeated two main rivals who equally divided the remaining vote, conservative Hong Joon-pyo (23%) and centrist Ahn Cheol-soo (22%).
Unlike Sunday’s French choice of national leader, there will be no second round to confirm Moon as a majority choice over one main rival. The Korean presidency, to which a candidate may only be elected for a single five year term, is elected by a simple plurality of the national vote.
Korean elections are unusually turbulent among developed democracies, with an irregular party political system.
The nation’s political parties are constantly mutating in terms of composition, policies and names. It is rare for two successive presidential elections to see candidates from parties of the same names as the major contestants.
The convoluted history of South Korea’s mutating political parties
Yesterday’s vote was the seventh presidential election since the establishment of the current national constitution in 1987.
Past Korean presidents have generally won office with voter support between 40% and 50%.
Only president Park Guen-hya won an outright majority, with 51% of the vote in 2012.
Moon Jae-in was also a major candidate in 2012: the runner-up with 48% of the vote.
Again unlike the French system, the Korean presidential and parliamentary timetables do not match, with the presidency elected on a 5-year cycle and the parliament – the Daehan-min-guk Gukhoe – on a 4-year cycle.
The current Gukhoe – elected in 2016 – has no partisan majority. President-elect Moon’s Minjoo (Democratic United) party holds 123 of the 300 seats to the centre-right’s Saenuri party’s 122, with Ahn Cheol-soo’s centrist People’s Party (which split off from Minjoo in early 2016) holding the balance of power.
What’s the difference between a Liberal (Moon Jae-in) and a Centrist (Ahn Cheol-soo)?
The South Koreans appear to use ‘liberal’ in the American sense, meaning well left of ‘centre’, whatever the ‘centre’ really is. Ahn Cheol-soo is therefore termed centrist mainly because he split off from Minjoo and positioned himself as less ‘liberal’. Korean party politics seethe with change and I can’t claim to explain all its mutations.