The coming year in South Korean politics
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The coming year in South Korean politics

This is going to be a doozy of a year for South Korean Politics, with two major elections amid an ongoing transition in North Korea’s leadership.

The first election will be in April for the National Assembly.  All 299 seats will be up in the vote, 245 in single-member districts voted  and 54 by proportional representation.*  The conservative Grand National Party has generally had a rough go of it in by and local elections over the past several years and progressives are working on a unified effort for April.  That will make it difficult for the GNP to hold on to its legislative majority.

The National Assembly election will set the stage for what will likely be a tough presidential nomination fight on both the right and the left, leading to a raucous general election in December.

Park-Geun-hye

Park Geun-hye will fail again in her quest to be the president of Korea

With that in mind, here are some predictions for the election year:

  1. Korea will finally be a two-party system.  In a somewhat belated application of Duveger’s Law, Korea seems to be settling into a two-major party system with minor parties on the right and the left falling in support.  The need to economize votes will add pressure on the center-right Liberty Forward Party and the left-wing New Progressive Party to join or at least enter electoral alliances with the major parties.  The Unified Progressive Party will be the biggest holdout, although dissatisfied politicians on the right and left may form small ad hoc parties ahead of the April elections.
  2. The Democratic Unified Party will win a plurality, but not a majority, in the National Assembly.  Although there will only be two major parties, the remnants of smaller parties and local victories by independents will prevent either of the major parties from winning a majority of seats in the National Assembly. While the left has been on the march as of late, they still have not closed the deal with the Korean people, many of whom will fear a repeat of dysfunction of the Roh Moo-hyun administration.  The most likely result will be the DUP winning about 145 seats to the GNP’s 135, with minor party candidates and independents holding the balance of power with roughly 20 seats.  The latest Realmeter poll has the DUP at 30.6% with the GNP 30.5%.  Both parties are beaten by the 32% who plan to vote independent or have not decided.
  3. (Here is the big one.) Neither Park Geun-hye nor Ahn Cheol-soo will be president of Korea.  That may seem strange since they are far ahead of all other potential presidential candidates in the polls, but both have problems that will be exposed over the course of the next several months.  That will be the subject of a post later this week.

*If you do not know the difference between the two systems:  In single-member districts, voters vote directly from a list of individual candidates to decide who will represent their community in the National Assembly.  Every district has a different list of candidates.  Under proportional representation, voters nationwide get one vote for which party they prefer.  As long as a party gets at least 3% of the PR vote, it will receive seats roughly in proportion to the percentage of votes it received.