Asan Korea Perspective

Happy Lunar New Year!
– From the Staff of the Asan Korea Perspective

Presidential Election in South Korea

The President of the Constitutional Court (CC), Park Han-chul announced that the Court must make a ruling on President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment before Mar 13.1 CC President Park’s term ends on Jan 31. He will relinquish his authority to Justice Lee Jungmi, whose term expires on Mar 13. If the Court affirms the impeachment vote, the presidential election should occur within 60 days and the newly elected president will assume his/her duty without a transition period.

Likely scenario2:

Early March: CC rules in favor of impeachment (if the Court rules against impeachment, President Park resumes her presidency);
On the day of the Court’s decision: potential presidential nominees may begin to register;
50 days prior to the election: Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn picks the election date;
24 days prior to election: presidential candidates register;
Late April/May: presidential election.

Potential presidential nominees so far3~12

T1.Potential presidential nominees_South Korea

Together Democratic Party

On Jan 26, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon (TDP) withdrew his candidacy for the Blue House.13 His absence narrows down the TDP field to Moon Jae-in, Lee Jae-myung, Ahn Hee-jung, and Kim Boo-kyum. Among them, Moon is widely considered to be the favorite.

New Frontier Party (Saenuri)

So far, only Lee In-jae has announced his candidacy for the Saenuri Party. This will mark the fourth time that Lee has placed his bid for the Blue House. Another name being circulated is the Prime Minister and current acting president Hwang Kyo-ahn. In a recent poll by Gallup Korea, PM Hwang garnered an approval rating of 5%, which was sixth among all presidential hopefuls.14 When asked about his rising popularity, he stated that “this was not the time to discuss such matters.”15

How do you evaluate Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn’s performance
as acting president?

T2. Hwang Kyo-ahn’s performance

Righteous Party

Both Yoo Seong-min and Nam Kyung-pil announced their candidacy on Jan 25. Yoo stressed the importance of Korea’s economic recovery.17 Nam emphasized his youth, stating that the upcoming election is “no longer a battle between conservatives and progressives but one between the old and the new.”18 How the former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon aligns himself in this election will impact who will ultimately represent the Righteous Party.

People’s Party

Ahn Cheol-soo is considered to be the leading candidate for the People’s Party although there are other names being considered, including Ban Ki-
moon, Sohn Hak-kyu, and Chung Un-chan.


Ban Ki-moon is expected to make an announcement regarding his political affiliation after the Lunar New Year holiday. Ban may join the Righteous Party or run as an independent. One certainty is that he considers himself a conservative.19 Sohn Hak-kyu, (former governor of Gyeonggi Province) and Chung Un-chan (former prime minister under President Lee Myung-bak) are also searching for a party platform.

Special Prosecutors on Bribery and Blacklist

On January 19, the Court rejected the Special Prosecutor’s (SP) request to issue an arrest warrant for Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong. The SP has taken some criticism for being overly ambitious. But most people have criticized this decision as another proof of the privilege that comes with the Samsung name.20The SP stated that it will continue to investigate and collect more evidence against Lee for bribery.21

The SP has made some progress on the investigation of a government blacklist of various artists and performers who supported the opposition parties and demonstrated against President Park after the Sewol ferry disaster.22 Kim Gi-chun (the former presidential advisor) and Cho Yun-sun (the Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism) were arrested. Kim is accused of drafting the initial list and Minister Cho is alleged to have enforced the blacklist.23 The SP alleges that President Park was directly involved.24

With only a month left for the investigation, the SP is on full throttle to find fault in the relationship between Choi Soon-sil and Park Geun-hye. Choi was issued an arrest warrant to appear before the SP on Jan 25 after she neglected multiple subpoenas dating back to Dec 24.25 The SP also expressed the desire to interview President Park in early February.26


THAAD continues to be a major issue of contention in South Korea. As the government is moving to finalize the arrangement,27 there are a number of factors that could delay the process. One is the declining public support. According to the Nov 2016 poll conducted by the Asan Institute, 46.3% of South Koreans approve of THAAD while 45.7% disapprove. This is a significant drop from 73.9% in February.

Do you approve or disapprove the deployment of THAAD on the Korean Peninsula?28
T3. deployment of THAAD on the Korean Peninsula

Another factor is timing. There is intense debate among presidential candidates regarding the THAAD. Candidates Moon Jae-in and Ahn Cheol-soo admitted that reneging the agreement on THAAD will be difficult. Moon has urged the current government to pass the decision on to the next administration, however. Ban Ki-moon and Yoo Seong-min voiced their support for THAAD. Lee Jae-myung has been most vocally opposed.

Candidates’ positions on THAAD 29

T4. Candidates’ positions on THAAD

Lastly, there is concern about China. According to the latest report, there is some delay over the land-swap deal between the Korean government and Lotte Group. Many suspect that Lotte is having second thoughts due to pressure from Beijing.30 The Korean government is currently considering whether to file a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO).31

Growing Anti-conglomerate Sentiment

With the recent political scandal in Seoul, there is growing demand for corporate governance reform in South Korea. Most presidential candidates have voiced their approval for such measures as raising the corporate tax and prohibiting corporate influence over subsidiary companies.32 Some have even suggested breaking the conglomerates apart or to outlaw generational succession in top management positions.33

With growing anti-conglomerate sentiment, the likelihood of a revised business reform bill passing the National Assembly floor is also increasing. A bill was previously introduced to limit the large shareholder’s influence in management. Companies are bracing for impact but some critics are pointing out that such laws would make Korean conglomerates vulnerable to foreign hedge funds.34

Party approval ratings 35

T5. Party approval rating

  • 1.

    “‘목요일 선고-수요일 선거’ 관행 따르면 4월 26일 대선유력,” 동아일보, 2017년 1월 26일.

  • 2.


  • 3.

    “이재명 대선 출마선언 … ‘박근혜 이재용 사면 결코 없을 것’,” 중앙일보, 2017년 1월 23일.

  • 4.

    “안희정 ‘젊은 대통령과 함께 세상을 바꾸자’ 대선 출마 선언,” 경향신문, 2017년 1월 22일.

  • 5.

    “이인제 4번째 대선출마 선언 ‘집권 6개월내 개헌’,” 동아일보, 2017년 1월 16일.

  • 6.

    “유승민 ‘정의로운 민주공화국 만들겠다’,” 경향신문, 2017년 1월 25일.

  • 7.

    “남경필, 대선출마 선언 … ‘기본소득보다 기본근로 보장, 일자리 대통령 될 것’,” 조선일보, 2017년 1월 25일.

  • 8.

    “장성민 전 의원 대선 출마선언 … ‘국민의당에서 경선할 것’,” 중앙일보, 2017년 1월 17일.

  • 9.

    “심상정 대선출마 선언 ‘노동복지국가 만들겠다,” 한겨레, 2017년 1월 19일.

  • 10.

    “정의당 강상구, 대선 출마선언 … 심상정과 경선 예고,” 경향신문, 2017년 1월 24일.

  • 11.

    “손학규 대선 출마선언 ‘모든 개혁세력 모아 신체제 건설 앞장 서겠다’,” 중앙일보, 2017년 1월 22일.

  • 12.

    “‘모든 준비 끝냈다’ 정운찬도 출마선언,” 한겨레, 2017년 1월 19일.

  • 13.

    “‘박원순 대선불출마 선언, 네티즌 ‘남은 임기 서울시 잘 이끌어주세요’,” 조선일보, 2017년 1월 26일.

  • 14.

    See Asan Korea Perspective Vol 2. No. 2.

  • 15.

    “‘지금은 아니다’ … 黃대행, 대선출마에 묘한 여운,” 조선일보, 2017년 1월 24일.

  • 16.

    Gallup Korea, date: Jan 17-19; sample size: 1,012; margin of error: +3.1 at the 95% confidence level.

  • 17.

    “유승민 ‘대선 후보 가운데 제가 유일한 경제전문가’,” 중앙일보, 2017년 1월 25일.

  • 18.

    “‘이번 대선 올드&뉴의 싸움’ 세대교체론 깃발든 남경필,” 중앙일보, 2017년 1월 16일.

  • 19.

    “반기문 ‘난 역시 보수’ … 汎여권에 먼저 둥지 틀 듯,” 조선일보, 2017년 1월 24일.

  • 20.

    “삼성 거쳐 대통령 겨누려다 제동… 법조계 ‘특검, 애초에 무리수,” 조선일보, 2017년 1월 19일; “삼성 앞에 멈춘 법원, 더 힘내야 할 특검,” 한겨레, 2017년 1월 19일.

  • 21.

    “특검 ‘삼성 특혜 의혹’ 혐의 보강에 전력,” 서울신문, 2017년 1월 25일; “특검의 삼성 외 재벌 수사, 궤도 수정이냐 전략 고수냐,” 한국일보, 2017년 1월 20일.

  • 22.

    “‘블랙리스트’ 수사도 朴대통령 정조준,” 조선일보, 2017년 1월 18일.

  • 23.

    “‘블랙리스트 의혹’ 김기춘ㆍ조윤선 구속영장 청구,” 한국일보, 2017년 1월 18일.

  • 24.

    “세월호 한 달 뒤 블랙리스트 작성, 박 대통령이 지시,” 중앙일보, 2017년 1월 22일..

  • 25.

    “‘죽을죄 지었다’던 최순실 ‘민주 특검 아니다’ 고성,” 한겨레, 2017년 1월 25일.

  • 26.

    “특검, 박 대통령 쪽에 ‘2월초 대면조사 받으라’,” 한겨레, 2017년 1월 24일.

  • 27.

    “황교안 ‘사드 가급적 빨리배치해야’,” 중앙일보, 2017년 1월 23일.

  • 28.

    Kim Jiyoon, John J. Lee, and Chungku Kang, “A Shrimp Between Two Whales? Koreans’ View of the US-China Rivalry and THAAD,” Asan Issue Brief, Jan. 2017.

  • 29.

    “대선 다가오자 문재인-안철수 ‘안보 우클릭’ … 사드반대 입장 바꿔,” 동아일보, 2017년 1월 17일.

  • 30.

    “중국이 보복할까봐 … 사드부지 제공 망설이는 롯데,” 중앙일보, 2017년 1월 17일.

  • 31.

    “당국자 ‘中 사드 보복에 WTO제소 등 국제법적 대응 검토’,” 경향신문, 2017년 1월 25일.

  • 32.

    “‘권력 앞에 굴복, 정의는 어디에’…대선주자 ‘재벌개혁’ 목청,” 경향신문, 2017년 1월 19일.

  • 33.

    “재벌개혁 전략 논쟁…‘최대한’이냐 ‘최소한’이냐,” 한겨레, 2017년 1월 23일.

  • 34.

    “‘헤지펀드 먹잇감 될 판’… 재계 ‘상법 개정안’ 공포증,” 조선비즈 2017년 1월 23일.

  • 35.

    Gallup Korea, date: Jan 17-19; sample size: 1,012; margin of error: +3.1 at the 95% confidence level.