South Korean Elections: PAP's Opportunistic Moment?

19 April 2020
James Gomez

James Gomez

The parliamentary elections have worked well for President Moon Jae-in's Democratic Party of Korea which scored a landslide victory. As South Koreans were relatively satisfied with the measures taken towards COVID-19, the voters handed the ruling party an absolute majority in parliament.

The simple reason for this electoral outcome is that COVID-19 has been relatively controlled well in South Korea, and the newly confirmed cases being about 30 in recent days.

COVID-19 was the single most important issue in this election.

In February, when there were massive outbreaks, there was a debate whether the elections should be postponed. In South Korea, the date of the legislative elections is fixed in accordance with Article 34 of the Public Official Election Act, which dictates that it should occur on "the first Wednesday from the 50th day before the expiration of the National Assembly members term of office".

Following the debate, the elections proceeded as scheduled. However, as the COVID-19 situation stabilized, public opinion shifted towards the Democratic Party.

During the voting process there were mandatory temperature checks at the voting stations, and voters have to wear masks and stand apart in queues when voting. Disposable plastics gloves and sanitizing gel were provided at voting stations. Provisions were also made for those who had fever or were quarantined.

However, the South Korean elections has been about riding the wave of approval for the sitting administration's handling of Covid-19. While defending job creation, tackling corruption, North Korean diplomacy and other key issues affecting South Korean society were secondary. It remains to be seen how these other challenges are expected to be addressed post-elections amidst a global economic downturn.

This is the political consequence of a COVID-19 elections in South Korea even though the country is a competitive democracy.

In Singapore, general elections must be held within three months after five years have from the date of the first sitting of the previous parliament. However, the Prime Minister can dissolve parliament any time before the five-year period to call an election.

This discretion-based model, as opposed to a fixed-date model, to call for an elections is often utilised to benefit from a political opportunity to maintain or increase the majority of the party in power.

The South Korean elections allows us to ask several pertinent questions related to Singapore if elections are held during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • How has the PAP administration fared in handling the COVID-19 situation to date?
  • How has the PAP administration fared in: keeping Singaporeans employed with adequate wages; lowering the high cost of living and housing; and reducing population density?
  • Do Singaporean voters want effective checks and balances?
  • Will the South Korean elections be PAP's opportunistic moment?

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Perspective Author: 
Dr. James Gomez was an SDP candidate in the 2011 parliamentary elections. Read also his response to the tabling of the Parliamentary Elections (COVID-19 Special Arrangements) and COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Bills in Free and Fair Elections Build Singapore's Political Resilience.