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Asia Minute

Asia Minute: A week of change for South Korea’s political landscape

South Korea Election 060122
Ahn Young-joon/AP
South Korean National Election Commission officials sort out ballots for counting at the local elections to elect mayors, governors, council members and education superintendents nationwide, Wednesday, June 1, 2022, at a gymnasium in Seoul, South Korea. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

It’s been a busy political week in South Korea. The country’s new president took office a little more than three weeks ago — but he’s already looking at an entirely different political landscape.

Around the world, it’s the presidential elections that tend to get the biggest headlines.

That’s understandable — in a democracy, the executive branch generally takes the lead in setting overall government policy.

But other elections carry an important political weight of their own — and not only when it comes to the makeup of the legislative branch.

In South Korea, parliamentary by-elections were held for seats in seven districts this week — along with a broad series of local offices — governors, mayors, and other district officials.

The result was a series of victories for the now-ruling People Power Party of President Yoon Suk-yeol.

South Korean media repeatedly use the phrase “landslide” when describing the results.

By week’s end, the leadership of the main opposition Democratic Party resigned to take responsibility for such a poor showing — even though the Democrats still have a parliamentary majority over the more conservative PPP.

As for what this all means for South Korea’s domestic and international policies, don’t look for sudden change.

Economic revival was one of President Yoon’s campaign themes — along with closer relations with the United States.

One potential source of increased tension: relations with South Korea’s largest trading partner: China.

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