Who is Yoon Suk-yeol, the next South Korean president?
Yoon Suk-yeol, a former chief prosecutor turned political aspirant, narrowly beat former provincial governor Lee Jae-myung in South Korea’s presidential race on Wednesday. Yoon is expected to become president of South Korea on May 10.
Yoon, the candidate of South Korea’s conservative People’s Power Party, is expected to succeed current President Moon Jae-in, a liberal member of the rival Democratic Party. Like Moon, Yoon is expected to serve a single five-year term in accordance with South Korea’s constitution.
A native of Seoul and the child of two teachers, Yoon studied law at Seoul National University but struggled to pass the South Korean bar exam after making statements critical of the dictator in the time, Chun Doo-hwan. After Chun’s fall from power, Yoon became a prosecutor in 1994. Yoon specialized in anti-corruption investigations and rose to fame after his investigations led to the imprisonment of several high-ranking officials and business leaders. despite political pressure from above.
Yoon is best known in South Korea for his role as lead investigator in a massive corruption case involving then-president Park Geun-hye, former president Lee Myung-bak, Samsung vice-president Lee Jae -yong and the controversial religious figure Choi. Soon-sil, who allegedly exerted undue influence on South Korean political and business leaders. Yoon’s investigation led to Lees’ imprisonment and Park’s impeachment and dismissal for abuse of power. She was later sentenced to twenty-four years in prison, although President Moon, her successor, pardoned her on humanitarian grounds in late 2021.
Yoon’s success against Park and Lee led to his appointment as South Korea’s chief prosecutor in 2019. In 2020, Yoon was controversially suspended from that role for breaching ethics, although a legal review concluded that his suspension was unjustified and overturned it in December. In March 2021, he resigned as Chief Prosecutor; four months later, he joined the People Power Party and launched his presidential campaign.
Yoon’s most pressing foreign policy challenge will likely be North Korea, which has conducted a series of ballistic missile tests throughout 2021 and announced it had developed a hypersonic missile in early 2022. So While Moon prioritized diplomatic engagement and peaceful dialogue with North Korea, Yoon indicated in public statements that his administration would take a tougher line against Pyongyang. In his first press conference as president-elect, he said he would “build a powerful military force that can surely deter any provocation” from the north. He also pledged to implement “firm and principled countermeasures to North Korea’s illegal and irrational actions”, although he added that avenues for dialogue would always remain open.
As a candidate, Yoon also vowed to “rebuild” Seoul’s relationship with the United States, which he described as “an alliance forged in blood” as the two nations “fight together to protect freedom. against the tyranny of communism”. He hinted that his administration may seek to install a second American-made Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-ballistic missile system. This would likely infuriate China, which briefly boycotted South Korea after the installation of the first THAAD system.
Trevor Filseth is a news and foreign affairs editor for the National interest.