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The 2024 South Korean National Assembly Election: Efficiency Amid Political Polarisation

May 03, 2024 • By Antonio Spinelli

On 10 April 2024, voters in the Republic of Korea (RoK) went to the polls to elect 300 representatives to the 22nd National Assembly1 (NA) for a four-year term. This election represented an implicit referendum on the incumbent People Power Party’s (PPP) president, Yoon Suk Yeol, in that it offered voters an opportunity to express a judgement on his mid-term performance, two years after he had taken office. 

As the polls closed, the National Election Commission (NEC) announced that over 29 million of the total 44 million eligible voters had participated in the election – representing a total vote turnout of 67 per cent a record high in Korea’s 32 years of parliamentary elections. Gender-disaggregated figures indicate that of the total turnout 42.6 per cent were female voters and 51.6 per cent male.  

The 2024 NA election results confirmed that the DPK, with its two liberal “satellite” parties, had secured a significant parliamentary majority, with a total of 192 seats. This marks one of the largest majorities seen in recent decades2. The opposing PPP received a reduced presence in the National Assembly, now holding 108 seats compared to the 114 it previously held. This shift in parliamentary representation reflects a significant political change in the RoK. 


How does the election of the RoK’s National assembly work? 

To elect the 300 members of the National Assembly, the RoK employs a mixed-member proportional representation (MMP) system that combines majoritarian and proportional formulas. The MMP was introduced in 2020 to provide, in principle, greater diversification within the unicameral parliament by increasing the chances of representation – through the proportional segment of the formula - for smaller political parties. Accordingly, 253 seats are filled through a First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) segment, in single-member constituencies, by a simple plurality of votes, whereas the remaining 47 seats are filled from closed party lists based on the proportion of votes obtained by political parties in the districts, provided that they have obtained at least 3 per cent of the total valid votes cast nationally or managed to secure five or more seats. 

Figure 1: The two ballot papers used in the 2024 NA election
The two ballot papers used in the 2024 election

In practice, however, the MMP system has so far still favoured the representation of the two most prominent parties, partly because it is still heavily leaning towards the majoritarian formula – given that only a mere 15.67 per cent of the 300 seats are allocated through the proportional segment - and partly because both the DPK and PPP, in order to secure additional representation though the PR segment, resolved to establish so-called “satellite” parties as a tactical approach to enhance their legislative power and representation in the NA by taking advantage of the nuances of the MMP electoral system.

For the 2024 NA election, a total of 940 candidates competed for the 253 seats in the majoritarian segment of the MMP, while 38 smaller parties, including the satellite parties of DPK and PPP, for the remaining 47 seats awarded under the PR element. Notably, the unprecedently high number of political parties competing in the PR segment resulted in a longer ballot paper, of 51.7cm in length which could not be fed in the automatic ballot paper sorting machines typically used for counting and, thus, required the ballot papers case under the PR element to be counted manually for the first time in 30 years. 

In terms of female representation3 in the NA, the 2024 election saw a record of 36 women elected (out of a total of 97 female candidates running), marking an increase from the 2020 NA election which had recorded a total of 29 women elected. 

Table 1: International IDEA's Pre-election Fact Sheet 2024: Republic of Korea

See the RoK’s global ranking in gender representation, Global State of Democracy’s ranking and other statistics in International IDEA's Pre-election Fact Sheet 2024: Republic of Korea

On 10 April 2024, the polls opened from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. to over 44 million eligible voters to participate at 14,259 polling stations, managed by up to 139,000 polling officials, across the country. Following the revision of the Public Official Election Act in 2020, which lowered voting age from 19 to 18 years, many first-time voters were also eligible to participate. 

Upon attending the assigned polling station, voters had to establish their eligibility by either placing their index finger on a fingerprint scanner or by scanning their National ID card. If eligible, they were handed two colour-coded ballot papers, one for each segment of the MMP electoral system, which – once in the voting compartment – they would make with an official red-ink rubber stamp and deposit in the ballot box, before leaving the premises 

Table 3: 2024 NA election – A special voting symbol
The 2024 voting stamp

At the close of the polls the sealed ballot boxes were transported, under police escort, from every polling station to the 254 counting centres established in every constituency across the RoK. Early voting ballot boxes stored at provincial and municipal NEC offices were also transported to the country centres.  

Table 2: 2024 NA election - key dates and operations
2024 NA election key dates

The sorting of marked ballot papers at the counting centres involves a combination of technology and human oversight which forms the backbone of the RoK’s ballot sorting and counting methodology and ensure transparency, accuracy, and integrity in the counting process and prevent any potential errors or fraud. Once the ballot boxes are unsealed and emptied, voted ballots are manually sorted according to the FPTP or PR race. Optical scanners (resembling cash sorter machines) sort the ballots into stacks based on how they are voted. After machines have sorted the ballots, a manual check is performed by election staff, scrutinised by election observers, before the ballots are placed into the counting machines which counted the stacks.


A highly inclusive and convenient voting process 

The traditional use of multiple and diverse voting channels participating in RoK’s elections a highly inclusive and convenient voting process. In fact, the various voting channels available to voters are designed to efficiently respond to multiple enfranchisement barriers they may have to face every time a national election is called.  

Aside from ordinary voting on election day at the assigned polling station, the RoK provides options for:   

  • Overseas voting: for the 2024 NA election, overseas voting took place over a 5-day period (27 March – 1 April). During this six-day period, overseas voters could cast their ballot papers at one of the 220 polling stations, generally open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., which were established by the NEC in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 178 diplomatic missions in in 115 countries. Some polling stations, in overseas locations with high numbers of voters, were established outside the diplomatic offices, in Korean markets or shops. Of the total of 147,989 overseas voters who had registered to vote, 92,923 voted in the 2024 NA elections, marking an overseas voter turnout of 62.8 per cent, the highest overseas voter turnout ever recorded.  

  • Shipboard voting: Voters aboard ships, such as crew of deep-sea fishing vessels and outbound passenger ships, could also remotely cast their ballots, from 2 to 5 April, at onboard polling stations using satellite communication through ‘Shield Fax’, a Shipboard Secret Electronic Voting System.  

  • Early voting: Allowing voters to cast their ballot earlier than on election day, over a two-day period, normally five before election day, early voting makes voting practical and convenient particularly for those who, on election day, are away from their district of registration and hence would be disenfranchised. Upon attending an early voting polling stations, voters are divided according to whether there are voting within or outside that assigned polling station’s district. To cast their ballot papers, voters voting within their district of registration, follow the same procedures used for ordinary polling station voting on election day, whereas voters outside their polling district, have their ballot paper for the PR segment pertaining to their district of registration elsewhere in the country, printed on the spot. Both ballots then placed in a special envelope, which is then deposited in the ballot box. Early voting ballot boxes are then transported and stored at provincial and municipal NEC offices and kept under continuous surveillance by a CCTV system monitored by the NEC. At the close of the early voting polls, the NEC confirmed that nearly 14 million voters (of the over 44 million eligible, or 31.28 per cent of the electorate) had opted to vote early, confirming the steady increase in the use of this convenient voting channel by voters in the RoK.  

  • Postal voting/home voting:  Any voter unable to attend a polling station due to limited physical mobility (elderly, persons with a disability, hospitalized voters) could cast their ballots from their place of residence or hospitalization by ordinary post. 

Figure 2: Election campaign posters
Election campaign posters


Dealing with novel and evolving threats to election integrity  

While the integrity of the 2024 NA election was not exposed to significant threats, two novel threats characterised, albeit to a minor extent, its management: 

  • Spy cameras at the polling stations. Before the early voting period started, the NEC reported that concealed spy cameras had been discovered at approximately 40 polling stations and vote counting centres in locations across the country, including Seoul, Busan, Incheon, Daegu and Gyeonggi Province6. Disguised as communications equipment, the hidden cameras were arranged in a way that they could record voting activities inside the polling stations. However, the hidden cameras were detected and removed by the Police before any secret filming of the early voting could be made. A YouTuber, who through the hidden camera system he had set up, was seeking to confirm unfounded election fraud claims, was arrested along two other men who had helped him.  

  • AI-generated deepfakes. Already seen in other countries elections this year - such as Slovakia7, the United States8, Turkey, Argentina, Pakistan, Indonesia9, the 2024 NA election in the RoK also experienced the use of synthetic media - in the form of AI-generated deepfakes10 - for deception purposes.   Experienced during the May 2022 local elections, an AI-generated deepfake video clip had depicted President Yoon endorsing a conservative candidate. Widely circulating on social media, the manipulated video clip had misled viewers to believe that the president had failed to remain politically neutral. This incident had prompted an amendment of the Public Official Election Act, coming in force in January 2024, prohibiting political campaign content utilising AI-generated deepfakes during a 90-day pre-election period and introducing harsh sanctions11 against violators. Already in mid-February, two months before the 2024 NA election, the NEC had uncovered 129 instances of election-related content utilising deepfake technology, in violation of the Public Official Election Act. The NEC reported that that most of the deepfakes manipulated videos of opposing candidates, distorting some parts of their speeches, or even altering them entirely, to exacerbate the already stark division between the two main parties. A deepfake video uploaded on YouTube depicted Han Dong-hoon, the PPP interim leader, during a press conference comparing the rival DPK members to gangsters12. 


A deeply polarised pre-election political environment and its aftermath 

The political landscape in the RoK has traditionally been characterized by deep polarization, with politics being highly antagonistic and personality driven. One addition factor contributing to polarisation have been distinct voting patterns among demographics – particularly among different gender and age groups – which typically characterised past elections and were again present in the 2024 national polls.  

These include:  

  • Gender-specific concerns13: significant political issues - such as mandatory military service for men or one of the highest unemployment rates for women across OECD countries - become more prominent in every election and remained an important factor influencing gender voter preferences in the 2024 NA election too.  

  • Generational differences also played a part in influencing the 2024 NA election outcomes. Age groups in their 60s maintained their progressive tendencies towards political reform (supported by the Democratic Party of Korea, the DPK), whereas the older generation, in their 70s and above, maintained a more conservative ideology (leaning instead towards the People Power Party, the PPP). Younger voters14 (in their 20s and 30s) also continued to hold their tendency to swing between the main two political parties. 


Such deep polarisation reached its climax in the bitterly fought election campaign period that lasted for 14 days, from 28 March to 4 April. Particularly in the lead-up to its final phase, the election campaign was significantly tainted by hostile discourse, slanderous attacks between rival parties, and harsh rhetoric. Policy and reform discussion was notably absent from the discourse.  

Furthermore, the 2024 NA election was held amid the President Yoon’s decreasing approval rate15, following his struggle to achieve his agenda in a legislature dominated by the DPK, a cost-of-living crisis, a spate of political scandals, his administration its perceived mismanagement of economic issues and corruption allegations. 

Elected to the presidency in 2022, Yoon Suk Yeol defeated the DPK’s candidate, Lee Jae-myung, by a mere 0.73 percent margin, the slimmest victory recorded in any presidential election. However, upon assuming his office, Yoon had inherited a DPK dominated assembly16, elected in 2020.  

Hence, the outcome of the 2024 NA election came as a major political setback to President Yoon. With the DPK further consolidating its control of the NA, for his remaining three years in office Yoon will be the first president in decades to contend with an opposition-controlled parliament for his entire time in office. This will de facto further reduced his already limited ability to implement reform and policies requiring bipartisan legislative endorsement 


For the DPK and allied parties, despite the remarkable success at the 2024 NA elections, they fell short in obtaining the 200 seats that had been forecast by exit polls. A two-thirds majority in the National Assembly would have allowed them to override any presidential veto, rewrite the Constitution, or even impeach him17 


Key takeaways from the 2024 NA election 

Looking at the 2024 NA election, two contradictory insights - one on the positive side, the other on the negative one - can be highlighted:  

Firstly, the Republic of Korea’s politics continue to be persistently polarized, characterised by a deepening ideological divide between the major political parties and their supporters. Regrettably, this factor contributes to a political landscape where dialogue is increasingly challenging, policy and reform agendas fail to be pursued, and where social conflicts and the divide between opposing political ideologies continue to be amplified rather than resolved through mediation, compromise, and party politics. 

Secondly, the limited yet smart and strategic harnessing of technology introduced by the NEC to enhance voting in the RoK, aiming for inclusivity, efficiency, and convenience for voters while upholding security, transparency, and reliability standards.   

Notably, such application of technology is primarily focused on typically less contentious aspects of the voting procedure, such as voter eligibility verification, ballot printing and sorting, rather than on procedurally or politically sensitive areas like ballot marking or counting of the votes, which are more prone to scrutiny, controversy, and disputes. This strategic approach reflects a balanced deployment of technology to streamline certain aspects of the electoral process without compromising its integrity which can serve as an important lesson to be learned by electoral management bodies across the world, planning to adopt technology solutions for their elections. 




1 The National Assembly is the unicameral national legislature of the Republic of Korea.  

2 In the 2020 NA election, the DPK had won 163 seats, the highest number of seats won by any party since 1960 which, together with the 17 proportional representation seats secured by the DPK’s satellite party, the Platform Party, had given to them a total of 180 seats.  

3 The introduction of a legal quota in the RoK has been followed by an increase in the number of female legislators elected to its unicameral parliament.  

4 During the “blackout” period the publication of opinion poll results is prohibited.  

6 See: “YouTuber faces prosecution in Korea over suspected spy camera installation at polling stations”, The Korea Times, available at:  

7  Before Slovakia’s 2023 parliamentary election fake AI-generated audio recordings impersonated a liberal candidate discussing plans to rig the election.  

8 A robocall impersonating President Biden advised New Hampshire voters not to vote in the state’s presidential primary election.  

9 The 2024 Indonesian election saw a deepfake video “resurrecting” the late President Suharto.   

10 The use of deepfake content, albeit not for malicious aim, is not entirely new to politics in the RoK. During the presidential election campaign in 2022, the two main candidates had employed AI-generated avatars of themselves to appeal the electorate.  

11 Hefty sanctions (up to (U$37,000) have been introduced for anyone found to show or divulging political campaign videos created with deepfake.  

12 See: “April 10 elections under threat from AI deepfake manipulation”, the Korea Tomes, available at:    

13 See: Australian Institute of International Affairs, “Voting Preferences in the 2024 South Korean Legislative Election”; available at:  

14 This age group played a decisive role in influencing the razor-thin outcome of the 2022 presidential election.  

15 Gallup Korea poll. President Yoon’s popularity recorded a 18 percentage point drop from 52 per cent in May 2022, when he first took office, to 34 per cent in March 2024  

16 President Yoon often blamed the DPK-controlled Parliament for blocking or undermining his reform agenda, in particular the introduction of labour and health care policies.  

17 The last two actions require confirmation via a referendum and the Constitutional Court, respectively.  

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About the authors

Antonio Spinelli
Senior Advisor, Asia and the Pacific
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