By Robert A. Vella
President Park Geun-hye’s ruling conservative party in the Republic of Korea was routed yesterday in an election result that surprised political analysts around the world. The South Korean government, a staunch U.S. ally, has been taking an increasingly hard-line approach to its relations with long-time cold war antagonist North Korea.
One of the crucial issues which appears to have turned the election is a growing weariness among the populace over the continued political division that has separated the Korean people since the end of World War II. From The New York Times – After South Korea Spurns Park Geun-hye, She May Press Agenda Abroad:
Ms. Park’s conservative Saenuri Party did not merely lose its majority in Parliament in the elections on Wednesday, an outcome that few analysts had expected. It was reduced to becoming the No. 2 party in the 300-member body, winning a mere 122 seats — just short of the 123 won by the more progressive Minjoo Party. Minjoo favors reconciliation with North Korea, seeing Ms. Park’s policy as too rigid and too focused on punishing Pyongyang with sanctions.
The elections took place amid widespread anxiety over economic concerns, such as sluggish growth and rising youth unemployment. In addition, many South Koreans have been dissatisfied with the governing style of Ms. Park, whose term expires in early 2018 and who is barred under the Constitution from seeking re-election. Many see her as a disconnected and even arrogant leader.
Ms. Park’s foreign policy proved far less important to voters than domestic concerns. And policy-making authority here is concentrated in the presidency, limiting the legislature’s influence on relations with the North and other countries.