Conservative politician Yoon Suk-yeol has been elected president of South Korea, defeating ruling party candidate Lee Jae-myung in a bitter race to determine who will succeed Moon Jae-in in the Blue House.
Yoon, who was nominated by the People Power Party (PPP), had captured 48.6% of the votes, with nearly 99% of ballots counted. Lee, a member of Moon’s liberal Democratic Party, was close behind with 47.8%.
Speaking to reporters at the Democratic Party headquarters after midnight on Thursday, Lee conceded defeat. The result followed an election so wracked by scandals and heated rhetoric that senior opposition party politician Hong Joon-pyo predicted that the loser could wind up in prison.
During the campaign, Yoon accused Lee of having ties to a real estate scandal and called his rival’s party “Hitler” and “Mussolini.” Not to be outdone, Democratic Party members called Yoon a “beast” and ridiculed his wife’s appearance. South Korean musician An-Chi-hwan was accused of mocking Yoon’s wife without naming her in a song titled, “Lady Who Looks Like Michael Jackson.”
Yoon is a former prosecutor and lawyer. He served as South Korea’s prosecutor general from 2019 to 2021, and he played a key role as chief investigator of corruption allegations involving former president Park Geun-hye and Samsung vice chairman Lee Jae-yong.
The scandal led to Park’s impeachment in December 2016. Shortly after winning South Korea’s May 2017 presidential election, Moon appointed Yoon as chief of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office. Yoon helped win the convictions of Park and another ex-president, Lee Myung-bak, as well as other former public officials.
The president-elect comes to power at a time when South Korea is facing rising tensions with North Korea, record Covid-19 infections, a housing crisis, and public angst over economic inequality.
South Korean presidents serve a single five-year term. Every living former president has been prosecuted for corruption after leaving office. Yoon has hinted at investigating Moon, without saying specifically what crime the current president is suspected of committing.