South Korea elects new president Yoon Suk-yeol after nasty race

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South Korea elects new president Yoon Suk-yeol after nasty race

South Korea has elected a new president, Yoon Suk-yeol, after a nail-biter of a vote between two “unlikeables” and a scandal-plagued race.

Yoon Suk-yeol, leader of the People’s Power Party and a former prosecutor, pulled .85 percent ahead Thursday of Lee Jae-myung, of the governing Democratic party.

Observers had compared the race to Netflix’s “Squid Game,” the South Korean survival drama. According to the AP, “Opinion surveys show that both candidates have more critics than supporters.”

Yoon, the conservative opposition choice, pledged to do away with a government agency devoted to women’s equality and has been accused of using a shaman as a political adviser, while Lee has been accused of corruption.

Yoon has also accused members of Lee’s party of using campaign tactics akin to those of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. Lee’s political allies called Yoon “an empty can” and a “dictator.”

Yoon Suk-yeol, leader of the People's Power Party and a former prosecutor, was elected the president of South Korea.
Yoon Suk-yeol, leader of the People’s Power Party and a former prosecutor, was elected the president of South Korea.
KIM HONG-JI

Lee’s party even circulated photographs of name tags belonging to Yoon and his wife from a ceremony that involved a shaman and animal sacrifice in 2018. The shaman was said to be a key adviser on Yoon’s presidential campaign. During the ritual, a cow was skinned and its hide displayed alongside a stack of dead pigs onstage. Yoon and his campaign vigorously denied that he took part.

“Isn’t our national future too bleak with an unpleasant and bitter presidential election that calls for choosing the lesser of two evils?” noted a recent editorial in the Dong-A Ilbo newspaper.

Yoon and his wife, Kim Keon-hee, earned the enmity of women's rights crusaders after calling sexual harassment victims "opportunists."
Yoon and his wife, Kim Keon-hee, earned the enmity of women’s rights crusaders after calling sexual harassment victims “opportunists.”
YONHAP/AFP via Getty Images

The mudslinging has played out in a country deeply concerned with rising home prices and youth unemployment, with both candidates accused of misogyny by women’s groups.

Yoon, who described himself as a feminist on International Women’s Day Tuesday and then quickly retracted his statement, has earned the enmity of women’s rights crusaders after he and his wife, Kim Keon-hee, labeled sexual harassment victims “opportunists.” He ran with a campaign promise to scrap the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, which provides social services for women and families, in an effort to appeal to young men in the country who reportedly feel disenfranchised and threatened by females.

Opponent Lee Jae-myung has been accused of corruption.
Opponent Lee Jae-myung has been accused of corruption.
JUNG YEON-JE

A survey last year by a South Korean newspaper found that 79 percent of men in the country feel “seriously discriminated against” because of their gender. Many young men said they felt sidelined by feminists.

On the other hand, women are far from achieving equality, according to statistics. The average monthly wage for a South Korean woman in 2020 was 67.7 percent of that of a man, according to the Ministry of Employment and Labor.

The vote count was incredibly close overnight.
The vote count was incredibly close overnight.
Chung Sung-Jun

While Yoon appealed to young male voters, he blasted his opponent Lee for profiting from a $100 million real estate deal in his hometown of Seongnam. Two potential whistleblowers in the deal, and a third man who denounced Lee in another scandal, have mysteriously died over the last two months.

Businessmen Kim Moon-ki and Yoo Han-gi, who were part of the Seongnam Development Corporation, committed suicide in December just before they were to be questioned for their roles in bribes related to the project, according to the Daily Beast.

Last month, a third man died of a heart attack after he went public with allegations that a local company had paid for Lee’s legal defense in another case. In that one, Lee — a former human rights lawyer and a former governor of Gyeonggi Province — was accused of lying when he had an older brother committed to a mental asylum.

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