(Bloomberg) -- The battlegrounds for South Korea’s parliamentary elections that will determine how much power President Yoon Suk Yeol wields for the rest of his term include the Yongsan district in central Seoul, where he keeps his office.

Polling indicates the top issues are tackling inflation eating into paychecks, reining in housing prices and providing strength for the country’s export-driven and slowing economy. The key will be winning over people like Sun Su-hee, who sells yogurt from a mobile refrigerator. Sun has grown disenchanted with both Yoon’s ruling People Power Party as well as the main opposition Democratic Party, which leads a progressive bloc that currently has a majority in parliament.

“Left or right, it didn’t do me any good, because politicians don’t work for ants like us,” Sun said under banners put up by both candidates. Undecided, she said she may opt for a third choice. 

Voting stations are open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Wednesday. Seoul accounts for 48 of the 300 seats up for grabs, and the Democratic Party took 41 in the last election four years ago. That means for Yoon, winning the election will likely require reclaiming more ground in the capital. His PPP has deployed one of its highest-profile members to seek the seat in Yongsan — Yoon’s longtime friend and four-term lawmaker, Kwon Young-se.

PPP candidates have been pushing pro-business policies that include reducing regulations and tax cuts for corporations and on real estate transactions. The party sees this platform as advancing the economy and helping voters in all income brackets.

Kwon has called the swing district the “No. 1 political address.” While on the campaign trail shaking hands with pedestrians outside Yoon’s office, Kwon wore a red sign around his neck that read, “Have a great day.”

Yongsan varies wildly in political views and income levels — with a neighborhood home to wealthy families of the chaebol conglomerates as well as slums not too far away. The area received a jolt of activity when Yoon moved the presidential complex there shortly after winning election in 2022.

On the opposing side in this district is DP candidate Kang Tae-woong, a former Seoul deputy mayor and longtime Yongsan resident who ran against Kwon four years ago, losing by less than one percentage point.

Political Leeks

The Democratic Party has tried to portray Yoon as out of touch as it touts its plans to raise taxes on the chaebol conglomerates and increase fiscal support for daily necessities. It is also battling image problems, with its leader Lee Jae-myung in court the day before the vote for one of many hearings related to charges of graft, which he denies.

Popular props on the campaign trail include green onions. Opposition candidates maintaining that the onions have become more expensive hold them aloft or shout about them to counter Yoon’s claims that prices are “reasonable.” Yoon’s office has fought back, saying prices for these staples were higher under former President Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party.

“This election is about handing down a verdict on the Yoon administration,” Kang said in a brief interview during a street campaign.

PPP candidate Kwon studied law with Yoon at Seoul National University and served as deputy chief in the presidential transition committee. He later became the head of the ministry charged with managing relations with North Korea.

But security issues and addressing the threat from Pyongyang are not central factors in this election, and the vote isn’t likely to prompt any changes to Yoon’s policy of firming up defense cooperation with the US and Japan. 

Yongsan is considered a toss-up, which is also true for the broader polls, according to some surveys. Adding a wrinkle to the event has been the rapid rise of a new party launched by Cho Kuk, a justice minister during the Moon administration.

“It’s hard to tell who will win,” said Heo Jinjae, a research director at Gallup Korea. “The more the vote becomes about a verdict on the administration, the more it will be unfavorable for the ruling party.”

In one of the last major polls released ahead of the vote, support was 37% for the PPP, with 29% backing the Democratic Party. The Rebuilding Korea Party, the new group led by Cho that looks set to align itself with the progressive DP, was third at 12%, according to the survey from Gallup Korea, which was conducted among 1,001 respondents nationwide. It said the poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Of the 300 seats, 254 are settled by direct elections in constituencies and the rest are allotted by proportional representation. The term in office ends in four years. Early voting last week hit a record high, with more than 30% of the electorate casting ballots.

The Democratic Party-led progressive bloc currently has 169 seats. If it reaches 180 seats, it can block filibusters. If it reaches 200, it can override presidential vetoes and approve impeachment measures, effectively hobbling and perhaps even ending Yoon’s government. Yoon has three years left in his term.

The PPP bloc would need to pick up 32 seats to take over the majority, a tall order especially with polling showing Yoon’s support rate in the mid-30% level. A prolonged walkout by trainee doctors upset over plans to increase medical school seats also clouds the race, with surveys indicating the public is growing tired of the labor dispute even though it sides with the government’s plan to add more doctors.

Read more: Deaths From Doctor Shortage Fuel Election Angst in South Korea

Inflation Worries

A stalemate may continue in parliament after the vote, forcing the government to rely on administrative orders to push through policies such as tax incentives and spending cuts, Citi Research analysts Kim Jin-Wook and Choi Jiuk said in a report.

Grocery prices have been of particular concern for policymakers, prompting them to introduce measures to promote discounts among retailers. The government has also said it would freeze public utility charges in the first half as part of its campaign to fight cost of living increases.

The Bank of Korea is keeping its key interest rate elevated at 3.5% as inflationary pressure remains stubborn despite its efforts to cool it.

For many voters, the most important issues are the ones that hit their wallets.

Kim Tae-gyun, a 48-year-old company worker, said he normally votes for the DP, but this time prefers the PPP because the Yoon administration has cut his property taxes from 20 million won to under 5 million won. “What more could you ask for?”

Kang Dae-hyoung, who works at a frame store near the presidential office, said he’s voting for the opposition because he believes economic momentum is too sluggish. 

“The price of everything is going up except frames,” he said. “I will vote for a party that keeps money flowing and jobs rising.”

(Updates with details in paragraph four.)

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