With less than a week before voting on March 9, the race for who will become South Korea’s next president is unusually close. After a brief campaign season marked by mudslinging and endless scandals, the choice between the two leading candidates—Lee Jae-myung of the ruling Democratic Party, and Yoon Suk Yeol of the conservative People Power Party—will likely be decided by a highly unpredictable bloc: young voters.
Whoever wins will replace President Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party, who, after running a hopeful campaign in 2017 promising to tackle corruption and inequality, is ending his five-year term with a relatively high approval rating compared to previous Korean presidents. But many voters, especially younger ones, are nevertheless poised to abandon his party at the ballot box, in response to several policy failures and corruption scandals that have haunted the Moon administration.
The party’s candidate, Lee, a 57-year-old human rights lawyer, gained prominence through his strong handling of the coronavirus virus pandemic as governor of the populous Gyeonggi province. Styling himself as a “pragmatic” choice and a champion for the underprivileged, he plans to strengthen social welfare programs and pursue a universal basic income policy. In contrast, Yoon, a 61-year-old career prosecutor who previously served as Moon’s justice minister, has appealed to voters’ interest in justice and fairness. He has also promised to take a more forceful approach toward North Korea and China.