Jacco Zwetsloot and Alex Jensen discuss Yoon Seok Yeol’s election yesterday in the 20th Korean Presidential election. With record participation rates, Yoon has secured 48.56% of the popular vote, leading Lee Jae Myung with 47.83% of the vote. Shim Sang Jung secured 2.37% of the popular votes as well.
Jacco Zwetsloot is a man of many hats. He works for PR firm Insight Communications, North Korea specialist news bureau NK News, and Economist Intelligence Corporate Network, part of the Economist Group. Calling himself a Jacco-of-all-trades, he writes and speaks for a living.
In terms of business, Jacco comments that. “Yun has promised to do away with certain regulations and to streamline business processes. “
Jacco also commented that Yoon has also made campaign promises around renewable energies, and small businesses and startup. However, we don’t know what he will do now that he is in the position.
The new President also faces the challenges of recovery. Small businesses suffered a lot under the last two years of COVID, especially in the service industries with the curfews at nighttime These people, who are working in the small business and people who are self-employed will be looking to Yoon to support and help rebuild that part of the economy.
Today’s episode is made possible by the support of the Innovation Center Denmark, Seoul Office.
D-2 Korean Presidential Election: Merger, Major Pledges & Record Early Voting
Alex Jenson 0:08
You’re listening to career biz cast with the KBLA. I’m Alex Jensen, and it’s Thursday, March 10. Let me thank for making today’s episode possible Innovation Center, Denmark, Seoul, which seeks to create innovation and business opportunities and build up relations between Korean and Danish R&D intensive companies, research institutes and universities. Now today, we wanted to provide an immediate response to the presidential election here. So we’re recording this the morning after Election Day. It’s turned out to be Korea’s closest ever presidential election. Yoon Sukyeol beating Lee Jaemyung by less than a percentage point. Yoon will take office on May 10. But in the meantime, we have Jacco vedsted on the line to help navigate the election aftermath. A man of many hats. He works for PR firm Insight Communications, North Korea specialist, news bureau NK news and Economist Intelligence corporate network part of The Economist group call himself a Jacko of all trades, he writes and speaks for a living, Jacco. Great to have the speaking version of you today. Thank you.
Hello, Alex. And I want to say it’s been about five years since I’ve been a guest on one of your shows. So thanks for having me back after all this time.
Alex Jenson 1:26
Well, it’s an absolute pleasure. I wish that hadn’t been the case. But now that we’re starting on the podcast, there’s going to be no stopping us as long as you’re willing. Let’s begin because of your jack of all trades description there, by the way. But let’s begin with the election. You’ve got this event tomorrow. Is that right? Which is kind of a happy coincidence for us to be talking about this right now.
It isn’t happy Quintos Yes, the Seoul chapter of Economist Intelligence Corporate Network will be having an online webinar tomorrow at 11 o’clock, with the economist correspondent Lena Schipper, former CNN bureau chief Son Jiye and a an analyst from Economist Intelligence Unit that’s Fay Shreya will be joining me on a webinar to talk about the implications for the business community of what this election all means.
Alex Jenson 2:18
There is a lot of global interest in this election. And there would be of course, in any major country with a major economy having a leadership change. But right now, in particular, with geopolitical tensions bubbling, I think there’s a lot of attention being placed on North Korea, one of your other hats, that the question of, for example, how the North will respond to the return of a conservative president.
Yeah, it’s an interesting thing, because the North Korea seems to know how to deal with with conservative presence in that. I guess what I mean, is that the pattern is predictable that there’s some some tough talk, and that neither side will brook any provocations. And so it’s the old stance of neither side doing much of anything. And we can expect probably, I would not predict any summits or meetings between you and Kim Jungeun in the next five years. That’s something that we can see is probably going to be off the cards. I don’t imagine that the canceling industrial park will be reopening, or the Geumgangsan tourism project. So that period of detente between North and South Korea, which let’s be honest, North Korea ended two years ago when it blew up the the liaison office between North and South Korean in Gyesung will not be revived anytime soon by Mr. Yoon.
Alex Jenson 3:40
On the more worrying side, we have the possibility of tensions spiraling It was back in 2010, for example, under a conservative administration here that North Korea went much further claiming South Korean lives in two major incidents, the sinking of the China and and then shelling of a border island here. And that was the first year I arrived in South Korea as that happens, but it’s still fairly fresh in the memory Jacco. And, and we’ve had some hawkish stances from Yoon during the election build up, perhaps some of that was to appeal to a conservative support base. But there is this talk of a preemptive strike North Korea has been hinting it’s going to return to ICBM and nuclear testing. We kind of have to strap in a little bit, don’t we?
Not too much. What we have to remember is that the Republic of Korea is in a an alliance with the United States and what they call an iron clad Alliance and, and that is a restraining force a check and balance, if you will, on any desire of, of a South Korean president to to go over the top. And we’ve seen that before with previous presidents in South Korea and they wanted to strike back against North Korea as for example in 2010 the instance that you mentioned, after the shelling of Young pyungdo Present Lee Myung Park was all in favor of, of shelling targets and maybe even dropping some bombs on on North Korea. And it was the the joint command that joint forces command that sort of pull the pull the reins on that and made sure that that didn’t go on. So I don’t think we have to strap in too much. I wouldn’t be expecting anything short of that, you know, you can never predict but if another South Korean ship were sank or another South Korean island was shelled, then we might be in a different situation. But I don’t see it happening. Certainly not as a matter of course.
Alex Jenson 5:40
I think for you and I being strapped into service, it just means being ready for the whole world, starting to feed off the rhetoric again. And we kind of have to be ready for that because we can talk about it now. But when it actually happens when you got all the major media publications around the world, pondering whether we’re about to see World War Three breakout on the peninsula, whether it’s the reality or not, especially with what’s been happening in Ukraine. It that is one aspect of this election outcome that that could be very different to what Moon Jae In might have said, for example,
yeah, what we can probably see in the coming year is a an attempt to satellite launch by North Korea, North Korea would like to get a reconnaissance or spy satellite up in the air in orbit. And that may or may not be followed by a nuclear test, which would be the first time in quite a while. But that shouldn’t concern us too greatly. I mean, it doesn’t, doesn’t affect our daily lives and doesn’t necessarily mean that the the 10 that rhetoric automatically goes up, although of course, there will be responses from South Korea and possibly responses from the United Nations Security Council. But that looks to be in a little bit of a pickle right now, because one of its members has launched a war another member of the United Nations. No short no telling where that will go?
Alex Jenson 7:03
Well, we’ll have to, at least on the career front, make a note to return to your voice of calm shouldn’t when the need arise on that provocative stance that North Korea is currently holding. Let’s also talk a bit more about the election result itself here are because it was so close, it was billed as a close election, a lot of the pre election polls were within the margin of error. Were you surprised by just how close and they are? I think still counting at this moment. It’s just after 7:30am as we record this the morning after the election, but it’s looking like it’s almost certainly going to be within a percentage point when it’s all confirmed.
You know, my I’ve been looking at the the election website on JTBC, one of the cable broadcasters here and there, at least that website tells me that 100% of all votes have been counted. But that doesn’t necessarily rule out any any challenges or requests for recounts or things like that. I don’t know how that goes here. Haven’t looked into that too closely. But yes, as you say the margin is incredibly slim. It’s less than 1% that separates the two. And you know, we had a little bit of a similar situation 10 years ago when President Park Geunhye was elected. Her rival and that election was Monday and the outgoing president. And when we went to bed, it looked like Mood might have wanted but when we woke up it was a pack that had got it and so were these things can change overnight. And when I went to bed last night, EJ Mian was ahead by 1.5%. And when I woke up this morning, he had lost by 0.8%. So yeah, these things can happen. But yet, gosh, it’s close. It’s and that does suggest some strong divisions within South Korean society. And when we see people over 60 overwhelmingly voted for Yoon, whereas people in their 40s and 50s voted for Mr. Lee. Now down there in in Pusan and Ulsan in the last election voted for Moon Jaein. This time, they flipped back and voted for the People’s Power Party for the candidate Mr. Yoon, an Seoul also, which, you know, I think I think I’m not mistaken if I say that that can normally be expected to go for the Democratic Party candidate, but Seoul flipped and and went for you. And so we see a real strong regionalism. I mean, basically, you’ve got Kyunggi and Incheon and the two Cheolla provinces and Kwangju and Jeju. They all went for Lee, but the rest of Korea went for for Yoon. It was quite clear split. And we also see some some gender splits, too, that Yoon didn’t really pick up a lot of the women votes at because he, you know, pledged to do away with the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. Not sure if he’ll go ahead with that. But yeah, that’s a There’s certainly a split there between men and women voters, especially young men and women, so young men voted for for Yoon and where young women voted for Lee.
Alex Jenson 10:09
One thing that happened just before this election was the merger, or at least Ahn Cheolsoo the minor opposition candidate deciding to drop out of the race to support in Yoon Sukyeol . And presumably he’s gonna be hoping for a part now in the power play in the next five years. I wonder how much Yoon has sacrificed and whether he needed to because if it’s this close, he obviously didn’t get quite as much of a boost from that murder as he was hoping for.
Yeah, that’s, gosh, that’s a good one. That’s one for the political scientists analysis to to really pass. I thought before the election that when Mr. Ahn merged his campaign with Yoon’s campaign that a lot of people who were going to vote for and were disillusioned and either decided not to vote, or to to vote for Lee, or even to go in and make their their balance, invalid. And so we’re not really sure how that’s gone yet. But yeah, it doesn’t seem to have helped you imagine that’s partly why I thought actually that Lee was going to win. Even when I went to bed last night, I thought it was a small chance that he was going to pull it out of the hat as it were. Because the Ahn factor didn’t look to be that helpful for you. And although now we see it’s probably pushed him just past the post. So it has helped Yoon in somewhat. You know, in Korea, we have this pattern that normally, two presidents from the same political party, win elections, one after the other, right, so we had Kim Yong Sam followed by sorry, Roh Taewoo followed by Kim Young Sam. And then we had Kim Daejoong, followed by Roh Taewoo, and then Lee Myungpark followed by Park Geunhye. So we had two presidents from the same side. What we have now is that Moon Jaein any party managed to lose the presidency to the other side, that’s the first time we’ve seen that since the restoration of democracy in Korea in 1987. And that suggests that there was something there, too, that managed to overcome the political inertia, we would normally expect that the major party would have kept on or held onto the Blue House for another five years. But clearly, there was enough votes to push past that inertia and to get union. And that may be thanks to the help of Ahn Cheolsoo whether Ahn actually gets the reward that he’s hoping for is another matter. I mean, prime ministers can be selected by the President, but they have to go through some confirmation process in the National Assembly. So it’s not, you know, some people are speculating that Ahn Cheolsoo might become prime minister under Yun. But even if he does, we have to remember that the prime ministers don’t necessarily serve for very long term, sometimes a shorter six months, sometimes even shorter. So they serve really at the discretion and the pleasure of the President who went who picked them. So I’m really curious to see what I’m getting out of all this.
Alex Jenson 13:15
Perhaps we’ll find out even more from his own point of view at the next election. But it’s very interesting what you said about this 10 year pattern now being broken, especially because President Moon Jae In isn’t exactly universally hated. In fact, some people see him as relatively popular.
Yeah, yeah, he’s going out on around 40% approval ratings, which is higher than any outgoing president since 1987. I mean, gosh, remember, when Kim Youngsam left office, he was down to 7% approval ratings. And, you know, so, yeah, Moon is going out on a relative high with 40%. And that, again, that was one factor that made me think that he had a good chance of winning, because Moon wasn’t as unpopular as we’ve seen from other presidents. But no, that’s it’s counterintuitive. But yeah, that’s what happened.
Alex Jenson 14:09
There has been a lot of talk about the real estate market, though. And that being a very influential factor, it was one that was played on by Yoon Sukyeol. The economy generally must have been a massive factor much more than North Korea, say for the domestic population. You would think even though a lot of conservatives do bring up the North Korea issue. It’s certainly not as overplayed as the global media would have it. Seem, what do you think are some of the issues that will come up during this event that you’re involved in tomorrow?
Yeah, definitely. The question of housing prices I mean, in Korea that you know, real estate, it’s a small country. We’ve got a relatively large population and half of it is centered in and around the capital city of Seoul. So the that what we’ve seen over the last 40 years is a very, very steady growth and in some areas, a very rapid growth of real estate prices without any major correction. So that’s what we have now is a phenomenon that young people in Korea feeling that they may not be able to ever afford their own apartment, no matter how good a job they get, no matter how long they work, and that’s disheartening for young people. And so successive presidents for at least two decades, probably more, have tried to do something to to cap real estate prices to slow down the increase. And for the most part, they’ve been unsuccessful. I mean, Moon came in five years ago hoping to, to break that trend, and was unable to come in prices continued unabated, even under Moon Jaein. So that’s going to be something that Yun will struggle with, I don’t know if he has some magic bullet that he’ll be able to pull out and, or to fire rather not to mix my metaphors, to, to tame real estate prices. I don’t think he’s got anything secret that he’s going to do. But it’s going to change the pattern. So I think five years from now, we’ll still be talking about that. Either. Other things, of course, are regulations at some foreign businesses in Korea, are always concerned about a perceived excess of bureaucracy in this country. And sometimes, are hard to predict bureaucracy and regulation should be transparent and predictable, but they’re not always that way in Korea, and so that’s something that businesses will be very much inclined to, to look at. And Yoon has, you know, he’s promised to do away with certain regulations and to streamline business processes. So that’s going to be interesting to see what he does with that. Also with things like renewable energies, and with small and with startup companies and small businesses, what will he do? I mean, we know that small businesses suffered a lot under the last two years of COVID, especially in the service industries with all the lockdowns, sorry, not lockdown, but curfews at nighttime to shut down and things like that, and social distancing and restrictions of group sizes. So people who are working in the small business and people who are self employed will be looking to Yoon Sukyeol to, to do things to fix that part of the economy.
Alex Jenson 17:28
These are all things that we’re going to revisit more closely. I suspect in the coming weeks, months, and perhaps years, definitely wanting to see how the job market develops housing prices, the economy more broadly speaking, maybe even other areas like the birth rate that have come up in the conversation, sometimes with the skepticism that comes with a point that you made earlier about appealing to young men who have been worried about the rise of feminism and during the week that we celebrated International Women’s Day, that might be an area that we kind of want to hold the new government to account in and make sure that we’re not taking steps backward on the gender divide.
But now, that, you know, has seemed to have blamed young Korean women for the declining birth rate, that is there, as you say, in the wake of International Women’s Day, that’s a worrying trend. I wouldn’t just jump in here and say that the other thing that we we will be looking at and that will definitely become an issue is the unpredictable thing that’s happened to the last two weeks, and that is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. How will that affect South Korea’s economy now South Korea, as an export focused nation, and as a nation with very few resources of its own, is definitely dependent on any crucial part of the global supply chain. And that how that global supply chain will be affected by the war we see already. Oil prices rising higher than I have since 2008. We’ve seen the Korean one take a bit of a tumble, the Korean stock market has had a fall as well. So that actually will probably be the number one issue in terms of economics for Yoon is to try to mitigate the effects of the war on the South Korean economy and to to make the roadmaster make the supply chain more robust.
Alex Jenson 19:17
Yeah, well, it’s a hot or a slippery baton, whichever metaphor works best that he’s taking off from Moon Jaein and although we still have a couple of months, and a lot can happen that time on the Ukraine front. Yeah, it’s not going to happen on a number of fronts, including North Korea as well where we started this conversation. For now Jacco Zwetsloot, thank you so much for being with us.
Thanks, Alex Jensen, for having me on.
Alex Jenson 19:40
And look forward to next time definitely much less than five years the rate of a presidency here in Korea. Also thank you to Innovation Center Denmark, Seoul for making this episode possible. We’ll be back with another one tomorrow.