south korea 2024

South Korea’s legislative elections saw a significant shift in the political landscape with the opposition gaining a majority in the National Assembly on April 10, 2024. This event was noteworthy as it occurred around the midpoint of the presidential term, which aligns with the tendency for opposition parties to perform well during such periods in presidential systems.

The current president of South Korea was elected for a five-year term in March 2022, and this tenure overlaps with the four-year term of the assembly.

In South Korea’s most recent presidential race, Yoon Suk Yeol from the People Power Party, which was previously referred to as United Future in 2020, narrowly defeated the Democratic Party’s candidate, Lee Jae-myung, with Yoon securing 48.6% of the vote against Lee’s 47.8%.

This single-round, plurality-based presidential election tends to set the stage for the opposition to secure majorities, especially when considering the current electoral framework for the assembly.

The system used in South Korean elections can be best described as a combination of Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP) and Mixed-Member Majoritarian (MMM). In this system, voters cast ballots for both individual district candidates as well as party lists.

The National Assembly includes single-seat districts determined by plurality, which is supplemented by two tiers of list seats, comprising 47 seats in total.

There are compensatory seats meant to balance the proportion of a party’s representation based on district wins (30 seats), alongside parallel list seats (17 seats), which are allocated purely based on the proportion of list votes a party receives, unaffected by district victories.

In recent elections, major parties have been noted to create satellite parties as a strategy to maximize their proportional representation through the compensatory seats.

For instance, in the 2024 elections, the Democratic Party established a Democratic Union, while the People Power Party formed People’s Future, each aiming to gain a full share of list seats while sidestepping the constituencies already won.

This approach evidently skews the system, blurring the compensatory intention and leaning towards a majoritarian outcome.

The Democratic Party, as part of a coalition known as the Democratic Alliance, won a majority in the National Assembly with 176 seats. Their share of the list vote was merely 26.7%, far from indicative of the majority they achieved, suggesting a strong distortion in representation.

The People Power Party and its combined forces with People’s Future garnered 36.7% of the list votes, translating to 18 list seats, which comes close to a proportional share, but when added to their district wins, results resemble an MMM system.

Several arguments suggest that South Korea’s democratic framework would benefit from a system that more accurately reflects proportionality, or at least a more effective application of the MMP aspects intended to ensure it.

Moreover, aligning presidential and assembly elections or reforming the presidential election to avoid plurality outcomes could contribute positively to the nation’s democratic health.

While electoral system reform alone might not reverse patterns of democratic backsliding, improvements could support stronger representation and governance.

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