“Dear candidate Yoon, feminism is not Voldemort.” If you don’t follow South Korean politics and haven’t read the saga Harry Potter, you may not have entered this reference. But by comparing the defense of women’s rights to the character “whose name should not be pronounced”the deputy Jang Hye-yeong pointed to one of the characteristics of the winner of the presidential election in South Korea: Yoon Suk-yeol asserts himself “anti-feminist”.
The curator, narrowly elected at the beginning of March, must be invested on Tuesday, May 10. Less than a year after entering politics and despite numerous controversial outings during the campaign, which earned him comparison to a “Korean Donald Trump”, recalls RFI. This hasflash scension is “very unusual” for the country, notes sociologist Gi-wook Shin, director of the Korean studies program at Stanford University, contacted by franceinfo. “Career civil servant”, Yoon Suk-yeol comes from a rather wealthy background. And this son of teachers is of a persevering nature: admitted to one of Korea’s most prestigious universities, he had to try nine times to pass the bar exam, reports the wall street journal*.
Appointed prosecutor in 1994, Yoon Suk-yeol is quickly made “a reputation as a slayer of corruption and abuse of power”, details Gi-wook Shin. He distinguished himself by investigating two former conservative heads of state: Lee Myung-bak, sentenced to 17 years in prison for corruption, and especially Park Geun-hye. Accused of embezzlement in a scandal involving several leaders of Korean companies (including the giant Samsung), she was dismissed in 2017, after monster demonstrations. Sentenced to 20 years in prison, the former leader was finally pardoned at the end of 2021 by her successor, Democrat Moon Jae-in.
It is precisely the latter that allowed Yoon Suk-yeol to access the highest judicial offices. “Upon coming to power in 2017, Moon Jae-in promised to tackle Corruption”, explains Gi-wook Shin. The prosecutor is then stationed in the provinces, a “punishment” for having alienated part of the political class over the course of its investigations. The new president appointed him district attorney for the capital, Seoul, and then attorney general. “Moon Jae-in thought Yoon Suk-yeol would be on the Democratic side,” continues the sociologist.
“At the time, Yoon Suk-yeol’s function required him to be politically neutral: he appeared as an independent who was not linked to either of the two main parties.”Gi-wook Shin, sociologist
As early as 2013, Yoon Suk-yeol announced that he “owed loyalty to no one”. Not even the president. Quickly at odds with the administration, the attorney general prosecuted several relatives of Moon Jae-in, reports the New York Times*. “Yoon Suk-yeol gained popularity among the conservatives, and in a period when no leader stood out in the party, he somehow became their champion”decrypts Gi-wook Shin.
In March 2021, the prosecutor leaves office, citing disagreements with the presidency. He only officially joined the Conservative Party at the beginning of the summer. “No one could have predicted that he was going to win this election”, points out Gi-wook Shin. Starting with the candidate himself. “Until recently, I had never imagined getting into politics, recognizes the 61-year-old Korean, quoted by the New York Times*. But the people put me in the position I am in today, with a mission to oust the incompetent and corrupt Democratic Party from power.”
The battle for the Blue House, the presidential palace, is marked by “blunders” by Yoon Suk-yeol. He claims that former dictator Chun Doo-hwan was “a good politician”reports the BBC*, wonders about the relevance of a 120-hour working week (Korea recently lowered the legal weekly time to 52 hours) and his wife threatens to “put in jail” all journalists critical of power if her husband is elected, as told The JDD.
In a divisive electoral strategy reminiscent of that of Donald Trump, Yoon Suk-yeol multiplies sexist outings in an attempt to mobilize young male voters. He attributes responsibility for South Korea’s low birth rate to feminism and assures that there is no systemic discrimination against women in the country. The numbers, however, say the opposite. In 2019, the salaries of South Korean women were 32.5% lower than those of men, according to the OECD *, compared to 12.5% on average in the 38 member countries of the organization. And the tenth world economy ranks dead last in the barometer on the glass ceiling established by The Economist*which assesses the status of working women in 29 states.
Regardless of the reality of these discriminations, Yoon Suk-yeol plays on the resentment of “young men who feel that women are being favored over them”, analyzes Gi-wook Shin. The populist candidate goes so far as to promise to abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality and the Family, in particular responsible for combating domestic violence.
This strategy fosters a real “gender war” among the younger generation, says a Korean journalist in a forum at the Washington Post*. But it has mixed results at the polls: if a majority of men under 30 vote for Yoon Suk-yeol in the March 10 ballot, according to a poll relayed by Time*, the conservative won the presidential election with less than a point lead over his opponent. The tightest election in South Korea’s history.
The mandate of the new Head of State promises to be “very different” from that of its predecessor, says Gi-wook Shin. “He relied on the executives of the party in its transition team and should therefore pursue a policy that will be within the conservative norm”, notes this specialist on the Korean peninsula.
“The foreign press has compared Yoon Suk-yeol a lot to Donald Trump because of his lack of experience and his inflammatory statements. But in reality, he is more like a South Korean George W. Bush: he defends the positions traditionally adopted by the Conservatives.”Gi-wook Shin, sociologist
This return to “a classic conservative policy” will notably be seen internationally. While Moon Jae-in promoted dialogue with North Korea, Yoon Suk-yeol promised firmness against her neighbor, who has been firing missiles since the beginning of the year. Comparing leader Kim Jong-un to a “rude kid”he even mentioned the possibility of carrying out “preemptive strikes” against Pyongyang, reports CNN*.
At the same time, the new president wants to strengthen military and economic collaboration with the United States, and initiate a rapprochement with Japan, adds the Brookings Institute*. the “biggest question mark” remains the future relationship with China, “became an important trading partner” from Seoul, observes Gi-wook Shin. Beijing, an ally of North Korea, has already warned of economic repercussions if the South buys new missiles from the Americans.
The economy is another area where the populist intends to stand out from the democrats. Faced with the explosion of real estate prices, he promised a reduction in taxes in this sector and the construction of 2.5 million homes in five years, reports the washington post*. Yoon Suk-yeol intends above all to deregulate the labor market, a measure which he believes will promote full employment and growth.
To implement this program, the inexperienced head of state must now bring together a deeply divided country. And deal with a National Assembly which is still in the hands of the Democrats. “Yoon is not a classic politician, experienced in negotiations with the partiesrecalls Gi-wook Shin. And with such low popularity, he won’t benefit from the traditional ‘grace period’ for new presidents.” The curator therefore runs the risk of being quickly “frustrated” by the resistance encountered, both in Parliament and in public opinion, argues the expert.
The one who built his career as a prosecutor on the “tours of force” will it be then “attempted to use the judiciary to attack his political adversaries” ? “In this case, we will see an even greater polarization of Korean societywarns the sociologist. Yoon Suk-yeol must prove that he has the qualities of a leader and a unifier.”
From the day of his victory, the president-elect seemed to make a gesture in this direction. “For now, our rivalry has ended. We must unite for the people and the country”he launched to the opposition, according to The Guardian*. A month before his inauguration, he also put on hold one of his most emblematic reform projects: the abolition of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. But feminists are warned: “The project still stands.”
* Links followed by an asterisk refer to content in English.
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