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Editorial: S. Korean ruling party landslide win earned by its handling of virus crisis

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who has two years left in office, has strengthened his political footing. The question now is whether he will be able to make good use of this fact to achieve results in domestic and diplomatic affairs.

 

A parliamentary election was recently held in South Korea. The left-leaning ruling party won a landslide victory to greatly increase its number of seats and secured a majority on its own. The Moon administration and the ruling party have gained a position that enables them to proceed with legislation, among other agendas, over objections from opposition parties.

 

Since South Korean presidents cannot run for reelection, their unifying power often diminishes in the latter half of their terms. This time, this pattern was changed because the election was held under extraordinary circumstances, when the country is facing the spread of infections with the new coronavirus.

 

Ordinarily, this election would have served as a chance for voters to judge the policies and performance of the Moon administration over the past three years.

 

However, their attention and key issues were all focused on matters related to the new coronavirus.

 

More than 10,000 people in South Korea have been infected with the virus, but the speed of the spread and the number of deaths have been kept relatively low.

 

The country managed to prevent the collapse of medical services by conducting tests in large numbers to trace infected people, isolate those with mild symptoms and secure beds for the seriously ill. This has become a model case from which other countries should learn.

 

The ruling party’s overwhelming victory indicates that voters favorably evaluated the South Korean government’s response in dealing with the virus outbreak.

 

Moon had been stressing, “Our national standing is also rising as the international community recognizes our quarantine measures’ accomplishments.” His remarks in this vein may have appealed to the people’s self-esteem.

 

It is also noteworthy that the election went smoothly in a situation where the infection has yet to be completely contained. At polling stations, measures to prevent the spread of infection, such as wearing masks, taking temperatures and disinfecting the area, were thoroughly implemented. Voter turnout was high, at about 66%.

 

Moon should keep in mind that South Korea’s structural problems cannot necessarily be solved simply by the ruling party’s victory.

 

Young people’s difficulty in finding jobs and the weakness of an economy that relies on China remain unresolved. Ruling party supporters and opposition forces continue to clash over scandals involving the former justice minister as well as the pros and cons of reforming the prosecution authority.

 

It is also urged that South Korea’s foreign and security policies be reviewed.

 

Although the Moon administration attaches importance to exchanges and cooperation with North Korea, Pyongyang refuses to engage in inter-Korean dialogue, and relations between the two countries have stalled. Negotiations between the United States and North Korea on North Korea’s nuclear and missile development programs have also made little progress.

 

The U.S.-South Korea alliance has been strained due to the issue of Seoul’s burden regarding the cost of stationing U.S. troops in South Korea. South Korea should give top priority to maintaining the alliance.

 

Japan and South Korea share the task of preventing North Korea’s provocations and maintaining regional stability. Conflicts over the issue of “former requisitioned workers” from the Korean Peninsula should not be allowed to hinder bilateral relations. It is necessary that the Moon administration first of all moves to solve the problem.

 

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on April 18, 2020.

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