Votes counting begins in the parliamentary elections in South Korea

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Voters care more about the cost of living in this election

  • author, Jan McKenzie, Kelly Ng, and Francis Mao
  • Role, In Seoul and Singapore

Votes are now being counted in South Korea as the country awaits the results of its parliamentary elections.

The election is widely seen as a mid-term referendum on the administration of President Yoon Suk-yeol, who still has three years in power.

His People Power Party is struggling to achieve its agenda in the Legislative Council, which is dominated by the opposition Democratic Party.

Mr. Yoon is under pressure to address a number of issues including rising food prices, a rapidly aging population and an ongoing doctors' strike.

Opinion polls predict that the opposition will gain a majority in the 300-seat parliament, although such polls have proven inaccurate in the past.

In recent weeks, Mr. Yoon has been criticized for appearing disconnected from voters' inflation problems. But the opposition also faced similar criticism.

If opinion polls prove accurate and the PPP fails to secure strong representation, Yoon could leave office without offering much in his time, beyond his foreign policy accomplishments.

His great success was in building relations with Japan and the United States to confront China and North Korea.

But this will have little impact on these elections. South Koreans will vote in line with their wallets more than anything else.

The president, whose popularity has been declining for months, has also faced a series of political scandals since his election in March 2022.

A hot mic caught him cursing in September that year after his meeting with US President Joe Biden in New York. His wife Kim Keun-hye has been embroiled in controversy for allegedly accepting the gift of a luxury bag, while separate allegations of corruption and abuse of power have been leveled at senior members of his party.

However, cost-of-living concerns may be most pressing for voters.

Just last month, Mr. Yoon drew criticism during a visit to a grocery store in Seoul where he commented that a bunch of green onions priced at 875 won ($0.65) was “reasonable” — when the store had priced the item at a deserved discount. To subsidies.

Otherwise, the price of the item would have been between 3,000 won and 4,000 won.

Mr Yoon's comments sparked a backlash, with farmers staging sit-ins using bunches of green onions. Vegetables have also begun to appear at Democratic Party of Korea election rallies.

However, the main opposition party is also besieged by political differences and internal conflicts, and has also faced allegations of corruption.

Analysts say voter dissatisfaction with both major parties could create an opportunity for new smaller parties and perhaps a more pluralistic legislature.

“We have many small parties [contesting] This election is very unusual. “There are 38 small parties registered for proportional seats,” said Eunjung Lim, an associate professor at Gungju National University.

But she added that even with voters disappointed, the main competition remains between the PPP and the KDP, neither of which has offered strong political solutions to the cost of living crisis.

“The main concern of Korean voters is inflation… especially grocery stores. These prices are closely related to the lives of ordinary people.”

At a polling station in Seoul on Wednesday, voters were more concerned about the cost of living.

“I need to buy an apartment, so I need prices to go down, but I can't see things getting better,” said Kim Hyun-seo, a newly married financial employee.

Kim Geun-soo, an 81-year-old retiree, said he was suffering from high food prices. “People like me are having a hard time, the prices are very high. I buy some things with my welfare payments and then there is nothing left,” he said.

Others expressed frustration at how combative South Korea's politics have become. During the election campaign, politicians were more focused on tearing down their opponents rather than addressing the problems plaguing Korea.

“I hope that the leaders will not fight, but that they will work together to lead this country,” 85-year-old Hong Ok Son said.

Voters cast one vote for their representatives in the National Assembly, which constitutes 254 seats in the 300-seat Parliament. They also vote for a political party, which then allocates a share of the remaining 46 proportional representation seats to party members.

The results, which are likely to be announced later tonight, will determine the composition of the country's parliament for the next four years.

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