#World News

South Korean leader learns political cost of a spring onion

By Jean Mackenzie

In February, the price of a single apple in Korea hit $7 (£5.5), albeit at a fancy department store. Fruit is notoriously expensive here, but for voters, who have been struggling with punishing grocery price rises, this crossed a line.

In a botched attempt to address their concerns, President Yoon Suk Yeol visited a food market and marvelled at how “reasonably priced” the spring onions were. The market in question was in fact heavily subsidised. Online outrage and mockery ensued.

“The president is going to be brought down by a spring onion,” the leader of one of the opposition parties exclaimed.

But the price of food is just one in a long list of reasons why President Yoon’s conservative party has lost South Korea’s parliamentary elections, which were regarded as a vote of confidence on his first two years in office.

Mr Yoon has always been unpopular. Since being elected by the narrowest share of the vote in South Korean history – 0.7% – his approval rate has tended to hover around 30-40%. Last month, half of those surveyed judged him to have done a “very bad” job so far.

“There are many incidents that have chipped away at his standing,” said the political scientist and polling expert Dr Lee Sangsin. First is a series of diplomatic gaffes, which have made international headlines, like when Mr Yoon was caught swearing on mic shortly after meeting US President Joe Biden. These incidents embarrassed Koreans who felt Mr Yoon had tarnished their reputation overseas.

Then there is his wife, First Lady Kim Keon Hee, who, according to Professor Lee, “people dislike even more than the president”.

She has been accused of plagiarising her university dissertation and of manipulating stocks. Last year, footage emerged of her appearing to break anti-corruption laws by accepting an expensive Dior handbag. Despite initially playing an active role as first lady, Ms Kim has not been seen in public with her husband since.

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