Who will be the next president of South Korea? There are several presidential candidates but it is seeming more and more likely that it will come down to a handful of them. The South Korean presidential election will take place in March of 2022. So far the top 3 candidates include former Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon, the current governor of Gyeonggi province, Lee Jae-myung, and the former Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl.

There are many indications that the conversation party will take control in 2022. One indication comes from the Seoul mayoral elections. The results showed that the opposition party candidate Oh Se-hoon got 57.5% of the votes while the Democratic party candidate Park Young-sun only got 39%. In Busan, the conservative People Power Party candidate Park Hyung-joon ended up getting 62.7% of the vote. These are clear signs that the conservative party in South Korea will end up taking the Blue House in 2022. Moving forward the Democratic party has to decide whether to rebrand themselves and distance themselves from the Moon administration. Or to double down with the current administration.

Conservative Party vs the Liberal Party

One thing we know for sure is that like in years past, the presidential campaign is looking like it will come down to a battle between the conservative party and the liberal party. The conservative opposition People Power Party was hit hard with the 2016 corruption scandal. The scandal led to the impeachment and ultimate imprisonment of then-South Korean President Park Geun-hye. However, the party elected a 36-year-old party member Lee Jun-seok as its new chairman. This has sparked new hope for a generational change in South Korea moving forward. He has called to fight against a system that favors the rich and connected.

The biggest issues facing the next South Korean president will of course start with handling the coronavirus pandemic. Most Koreans are not vaccinated and many businesses have been hurt due to guidelines that prevent large public gatherings. In addition, there continue to be nuclear threats from North Korea, high housing prices, high unemployment among the youth, high inequality gaps, and foreign relations with the U.S, China, and Japan. This will be the most wide-open presidential election of all time.

The Next President of South Korea – Top Candidates

Yoon Seok-youl

Next President of South Korea

The biggest critic of the Moon administration has gotten a lot of support from the public. Interestingly Yoon Seok-youl is very popular among conservatives in Korea and those that want someone that will change things up moving forward. He is currently the frontrunner but a lot can change moving forward. He is very popular among Koreans due to the fact that he was known for cracking down on corruption among corporate leaders such as Samsung Electronic’s Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong and the former South Korean President Park Geun Hye. However, the reason why he is the frontrunner is his opposition to the Moon administration. He stated many times that he wants to restore constitutionalism and the principle of fairness that he says have been marred by the Moon administration.

Yoon Seok-youl has been in the headlines of late. His mother-in-law was convicted of fraud and medical law violations linked to her hospital business and was sentenced to 3 years in prison. In addition, his wife, Kim Keon-hee has rumors about her circulating online in regards to allegations she used to work as a hostess at a hotel nightclub before their marriage in 2012. She has continuously denied these allegations. Dispite these issues, Yoon continues to have a lot of support. Most feel he is joining the conservative opposition People Power Party, others feel he might launch his own party if his popularity continues to rise.

“I’m stepping forward with a determination to change the government. I’ll join forces with everyone yearning for a shift in power and achieve that surely,” said Yoon Seok-youl

Lee Jae-myung

Next President of South Korea

While Yoon might have a slight lead, Lee Jae-myung is right there with him. Lee already ran against the current South Korean President Moon Jae-in back in 2017. While left-leaning, he is considered an outsider and has a strong following with those that are frustrated with the current administration. He is the governor of Korea’s most populous province, Gyeonggi, and made headlines for embracing UBI (Universal Basic Income) in Korea. This got him praise from Koreans (especially the younger generation) who see his leadership during the coronavirus pandemic and his decision to offer financial support to local residents ahead of the central government. He is labeled by his opponents as a populist. Therefore, he is often compared to the United States, Senator Bernie Sanders.

The problem for Lee Jae-myung moving forward is that he does not have the support of President Moon. As well as the mainstream members/media of the Democratic Party of Korea. This is a huge issue as Moon supporters are still the majority within the Democratic party. His biggest scandal comes from a claim from an actress named Kim Bu-seon that Lee had an extramarital affair with her. Lee has denied this. Kim then filed a lawsuit against Lee for defamation.

Some of the key policies are listed below:

  • Wants more engagement with North Korea
  • Reform family-run conglomerates
  • Wants to implement a plan that would give around $90,000 to people when they reach the age of 20.

Lee Nak-yon

Lee Nak Yon

If Yoon’s support fades due to scandals, Lee Nak-yon’s will rebound. He has been a politician for many years. He has had various roles as a governor, member of the National Assembly, the former prime minister to President Moon, and the leader of the Democratic Party. Many consider him an insider candidate and would be the top choice of the current president Moon Jae-in.  However, he has earned a lot of criticism with his claims that he will call on Moon to pardon the former South Korean President Park Geun-hye. The Democratic Party will hold its primary election in September of 2021. Currently, it seems that Lee Nak-yon is the early favorite. However, no clear candidate has emerged as the clear favorite.

His policies are focused on ensuring a decent living standard. This does not only mean income but also in housing, labor, education, healthcare, culture, and the environment. The aim is to establish a middle-class economy to 70% from 57%. In addition, he pledged to revise the Constitution to strengthen socio-economic democracy and to develop Korea’s metropolitan and provincial areas. Furthermore, he wants to establish peace on the Korean peninsula. Furthermore, he wants to strengthen the Korea-US alliance, Korea-China strategic cooperative partnership, and cooperation with Japan and Russia.

“As the gap in our society widens, inequality has grown through the pandemic. As many people, including the young, are protesting against unfairness in the world, it is urgent to ease inequality and we need to rebuild the damaged justice,” said Lee Nak-yon.