Elections in South Korea: What they mean for global development

Yoon Suk-yeol from the main opposition, People Power Party, was elected as the 20th president of South Korea on March 9, 2022. He won the presidential election by a slim margin; 48.6% to 47.8%.  His presidency will officially start on May 10, 2022, and his term will last five years. Priority will be likely be given to national interests in implementing international development assistance.

President-elect Suk-yeol aims to open the era of Korean bio-health and make South Korea a vaccine-medicine powerhouse, by committing to "fairness and common sense". Under his leadership, South Korea will seek to establish a global vaccine hub and expand R&D in bio-digital and advanced medical care. Suk-yeol will also set up a “Presidential Committee on Pharmaceutical Bio-Innovation” directly under the Prime Minister, which will coordinate and foster support for the pharmaceutical and bio industries. Multilateral diplomacy and funding is expected to gain prominence, although further clarity in terms of ODA commitments and contributions have yet to be provided.

President-elect Suk-yeol’s pledges thus far have raised concerns regarding gender equality. The former conservative prosecutor has declared himself an anti-feminist and called for the abolition of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. He has blamed the low birth rate in South Korea on feminism, and capitalized on young men's fears about feminism and modest women's rights gains to win votes in the election. He has also stated that he does not believe that gender-based discrimination exists in South Korea. Critics fear that these developments may have an impact on South Korea’s support to gender equality and women’s empowerment.

The COVID-19 pandemic and economic fears have heavily influenced South Korea’s voting behavior. The People Power Party’s focus on 'economic growth, national interests, less tax' ultimately proved successful in the voting booth, with international development cooperation receiving less attention.