Did South Korea just have the first Covid-19 government referendum election?

On Wednesday, South Korea’s liberal ruling party won a landslide victory in a general election, winning the kind of majority not seen in more than three decades. Early analysis points to the high marks President Moon Jae-in received from his government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.

As AFP reports, “South Korea’s left-leaning ruling party won a landslide victory in Wednesday’s general election, partial results showed, after the coronavirus pandemic turned the political tide in President Moon Jae-in’s favor.” (emphasis mine)

Governments around the world are facing unprecedented challenges to their institutions and leaders, and societies worldwide are asking a basic question: Is our government competent to handle such a monumental moment? The new divide, it seems to me, is not a left-right one or an authoritarian vs democratic one. Rather it might be competence vs incompetence. President Moon’s administration delivered an impressive response to the Covid-19 pandemic in one of the hardest hit countries.

Again, as AFP reports: “Just a few months ago scandals over power abuse and sluggish economic growth threatened the left-leaning president, with critics calling his dovish approach towards North Korea — despite Pyongyang’s abandonment of its nuclear and ballistic missile test moratoriums — unrealistic.” But “the relatively quick and effective handling of the epidemic — it has also exported test kits to at least 20 countries — has been a boon for Moon ahead of the parliamentary elections, largely seen as a referendum on his performance.”

The piece quoted Minseon Ku from Ohio State University lauding President Moon’s “coronavirus diplomacy,” especially his bilateral phone calls with some 20 leaders worldwide and “South Korea’s global recognition” for its handling of the virus.

Major global crises test the mettle of leaders and institutions and, it seems, South Korean voters have give President Moon and the ruling Democratic Party of Korea high marks.

As governments around the world grapple with the Covid-19 pandemic, their societies are watching and asking: is my government up to the task of handling a major global crisis? The answer to that question will reverberate across politics over the next year and likely far beyond.

For a closer look at South Korea’s elections from domestic and regional media sources, take a look at our round-up.

Share This