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South Korean Presidential Election Marked by Accusations, Legal Action


Lee Jae-myung, the presidential candidate of the ruling Democratic Party, is greeted by supporters during a presidential election campaign in Seoul, South Korea on March 3, 2022.
South Korean Presidential Election Marked by Accusations, Legal Action
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The competition between South Korea's two leading presidential candidates has been marked by insults, attacks and legal action.

Just days before early voting started, Lee Jae-myung from the ruling Democratic Party and Yoon Suk Yeol from the main opposition People Power Party were in a tense campaign. A record number of voters, nearly 37 percent, took part in two days of early voting by mail that ended on Saturday

Hong Joon-pyo is a senior leader in the People Power Party. He wrote on Facebook that "It's a dreadful presidential election” because the loser may go to prison. He compared the campaign to a fight between dogs.

There has even been a physical attack. On Monday, a man attacked Song Young-gil, the leader of South Korea's ruling Democratic Party. Song was attending an event for the party's presidential candidate, Lee Jae-myung. Song had to go to the hospital after a stranger hit him on the head with a metal object. He left the hospital after treatment.

The attacker was reported to be a man in his 70s. Reuters, which published video of the incident, said it could not confirm the video which came from YouTube. It showed the attacker wearing traditional clothing. He struck Song on the back of the head. Party officials said Song was in good condition and police arrested the man.

More critics than supporters

Opinion studies show that both candidates have more critics than supporters. It is a time of economic weakness for South Korea after the COVID-19 pandemic and also of fears because of North Korea’s missile tests.

Yoon has accused Lee of wrongdoing related to a land development. Lee has denied any connection to it and has tried to link Yoon to the same investigation. There have also been attacks on the candidates' wives. The candidates’ wives have both apologized over separate scandals.

Their campaign teams and supporters have taken several legal actions. They are charging each other with spreading false information, among other issues.

Choi Jin is the director of the Institute of Presidential Leadership which is based in Seoul. Choi is afraid that "…the mutual hatred won't easily die down after the election."

Voters in South Korea have differing political opinions based on where they live in the country. They also have different ideas about North Korea. Political opinions also show disagreement between generations, economic groups and on women's rights issues.

The People Power Party candidate Yoon is more popular with older voters and those in the southeastern area of Gyeongsang Province. His supporters want a stronger military alliance with the United States and a strong policy on North Korea. They believe past authoritarian rulers quickly developed the economy after the Korean War.

The Democratic Party candidate Lee enjoys support from younger people and those from Jeolla Province in the southwest. His supporters want an equal status in relations with the United States and better relations with North Korea. They are critical of the human rights records of past leaders.

Youth have not experienced dictatorships

A surprising result of opinion studies suggests that Yoon has received greater approval ratings than Lee from voters aged 18 to 29. That voting group was born after South Korea became a developed country.

Park Sung-min is head of MIN Consulting, a political advising firm based in Seoul. "They didn't experience poverty and dictatorships.” Park added, “They are very critical of China and North Korea, and they have rather friendly feelings toward the U.S. and Japan."

­­­­­­Last month, Yoon told a newspaper that if elected, his government would investigate possible wrongdoing by the current government of President Moon Jae-in.

Lee supported Moon’s investigations of past conservative governments. He said they were necessary to remove "deep-rooted evils and injustice."

The disputes are so strong that some have even called the campaign "The Squid Game Election." That comes from the popular television show called The Squid Game in which people die if they lose at children's games.

Cho Jinman is a professor at Seoul's Duksung Women's University. He said a new president must hold back and quiet demands to punish political opponents.

"We now have an election race like 'Squid Game,' but it will be a new president's responsibility to pull us out of it," he said.

I’m Jill Robbins.

Hyung-Jin Kim reported on this story for the Associated Press. Jill Robbins adapted it for Learning English.

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Words in This Story

dreadful – adj. extremely bad or unpleasant

scandal –n. an occurrence in which people are shocked and upset because of behavior that is morally or legally wrong

mutual –adj. shared between two or more people or groups

authoritarianadj. very strict and not allowing people freedom to do what they want

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