Who can vote in South Korea

Background current

On April 13th, the South Koreans elected a new National Assembly. The result comes as a surprise to many: the conservative ruling Saenuri party is losing its majority. The social-liberal Minjoo party is expected to be the strongest force.

Election posters of the candidates for the parliamentary elections in the South Korean capital Seoul. (& copy picture-alliance / AP)

Surprising election result

944 candidates stood for election on April 13th. The turnout was the highest in twelve years. The result is a big surprise, because in polls on the election the conservative ruling party Saenuri came out on top until the end. According to media reports, however, it is now losing seats significantly: According to this, the Saenuri party would receive 122 seats (2012: 146). The social-liberal Minjoo party would have 123 (2012: 102) members, the newly founded centrist people’s party 38. Above all, young, educated voters are said to have voted for the opposition. The official election results are still pending.

Issues in the election campaign

The campaign topic was relations with North Korea. Since the beginning of 2016, the conflict with the neighboring country has intensified again. In January, North Korea carried out new atomic bomb tests, fired short-range missiles and put its army on alert. In response to the nuclear weapons tests, the UN Security Council has imposed sanctions, including the control of all shipments to and from North Korea and a ban on the sale of small arms.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye has announced that she will tighten sanctions, stop aid deliveries and keep the military on alert. The cooperation between North and South Korea in the joint Kaesong industrial park was also ended. In mid-March, the United States and the South Korean military organized a large-scale maneuver in which the storming of North Korean beaches was tested.

South Korea's economy was another key issue in the election campaign: the country saw a decline in exports, rising unemployment - especially among young people - and a record high household debt.

President Park Geun-hye was confronted with criticism of her economic policy in view of the worsening economic situation. In addition, opposition parties and the media accused the government of having failed in several crisis situations in recent years. Dealing with the Mers virus, which killed 38 people in South Korea and caused panic across the country, has had a negative impact on Park's image among the population, according to a Gallup survey. The government had previously been criticized for the organization of the rescue measures and its information policy in connection with the "Sewol" ferry disaster. 304 people died in the accident in 2014. In response to the disaster, the government created a Ministry for Public Safety and Security to respond better in crisis situations.

The electoral system

The National Assembly is a unicameral parliament and is elected every four years. It has a total of 300 seats. For the most part, these were chosen as direct candidates in their constituencies. Approximately one sixth of the seats are allocated to the parties by proportional representation on the list. In the last parliamentary election in April 2012, the conservative Saenuri Party ("New World Party") won the majority of the seats. In terms of the distribution of seats in parliament, Saenuri has so far had 146, the social-liberal Minjoo party 102, the centrist People's Party 20 and the center-left Jeongeui party ("Justice Party") 5 seats. The remaining of the 292 seats were occupied by the Democratic Party and the Christian Liberty Party ("Christian Liberty Party"), each with one seat and non-party members (17 seats).

The political system

The Republic of Korea has a presidential constitution. Its head of state is the president, who is directly elected every five years but is not allowed to stand again after a term of office. Park Geun-hye has been the country's president since 2013. She is the daughter of former dictator and longtime President Park Chung-Hee. The former leader of the Conservative Saenuri Party is the first woman in South Korea to hold this post. As President, she appoints the ministers and, with the approval of the National Assembly, the Prime Minister. She also has the right of veto to postpone resolutions by the National Assembly and is the chief commander of the armed forces. The prime minister's main duties are ceremonial. Hwang Kyo-ahn currently holds this position. South Korea's legislative power is exercised through the National Assembly (Kuk Hoe).


more on the subject

  • Current background (April 2nd, 2013): Concern about the escalation of the Korean conflict
  • Current background: 65 years ago (June 25, 2015): Beginning of the Korean War
  • Current background (March 9, 2012): Emergency aid for North Korea