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The Peninsula

Political Ethics Take Center Stage in Election Discourse

Published February 19, 2022
Author: Korea View

What Happened

  • The main opposition party candidate Yoon Seok-yeol promised to investigate the incumbent Moon administration’s “deeply-rooted evil” if elected.
  • While the ruling party candidate Lee Jae-myung criticized his opponent’s divisive pledge, news media focused on Lee’s support for the Moon administration’s investigations into previous governments.
  • The opposition party long accused the Moon administration of engaging in political retribution by investigating previous governments.

Implication: Focus on political ethics is becoming a more prominent fixture in South Korea’s elections. Comparing the rhetoric used in the 2007 presidential election to that of 2022, both the platforms and critiques of the candidates are drawing greater attention to the issue of corruption. By contrast, the conservative candidate won the presidency in the 2007 election by promising economic revitalization. Similarly, then-candidate Park Geun-hye defeated Moon Jae-in in the 2012 election by emphasizing her plan to accelerate the economic recovery from the 2008 global financial crisis.

Context: The critical shift may have come in 2017 when Moon Jae-in explicitly made morality a key component of his platform in response to the influence-peddling scandal that led to Park’s impeachment. This was consistent with the popular demand for political justice and restoration of public morality. In the current election, Yoon’s background as a prosecutor is a major part of his popular appeal because there is a belief that he will oversee a more transparent government.

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Kayla Harris, David Lee, Sarah Marshall, and Mai Anna Pressley. Picture from the flickr account of Ken Shin.

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