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Asia Minute: South Korea is heading for an unusual presidential election next month

South Korea Politics Yoon Suk Yeol, the presidential candidate of the main opposition People Power Party
Ahn Young-joon/AP
Pool AP
Yoon Suk-yeol, the presidential candidate of the main opposition People Power Party, speaks during a press conference at the party's headquarters in Seoul, South Korea on Monday, Jan. 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon, Pool)

This is an election year — and not only in Hawaiʻi and for the U.S. Congress. South Korea’s presidential election is five weeks from Wednesday — and this year’s run is unusual in several ways.

In South Korea, presidents are elected for a single five-year term — so current President Moon Jae-in will soon be heading to the political sidelines.

Lee Jae-myung South Korea election
Chung Sung-Jun/AP
Pool Getty Images
Lee Jae-myung, a candidate of the ruling Democratic Party, speaks during a New Year press conference at a Kia Motors' plant in Gyeonggi-do, South Korea on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022. (Chung Sung-Jun/Pool Photo via AP)

His Democratic Party holds a majority of seats in the National Assembly — analysts call its political tendencies center-left.

The ruling party’s nominee is Lee Jae-myung — a former mayor and governor, and previously a civil rights attorney.

He favors some progressive policies — including a universal basic income — starting with farmers and fishers.

The main opposition is the more conservative People Power Party.

Its presidential candidate is Yoon Suk-yeol, a career prosecutor who ran the successful corruption case against former President Park Geun-hye.

He’s called for the United States to redeploy tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea — something the U.S. pulled out of the country in the early 1990s.

Neither of the two main party candidates has served in South Korea’s National Assembly — a first in South Korea’s history as a democracy.

There are two smaller parties — with their own presidential candidates.

Ahn Cheol-soo is running for the center-right People’s Party, while Sim Sang-jung is running for the progressive Justice Party.

Analysts say the two main candidates have sharply differing policy positions — and right now the polling between the two remains tight.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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