Why has the green onion become a symbol of political protest in South Korea?

While the legislative elections will be held this Wednesday, April 10 in South Korea, voters in the “Land of Fresh Mornings” should have been concerned about foreign policy, the economy or the nuclear-warhead missiles that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un points in their direction.

However, for several weeks now, it is green onions, an essential ingredient in local cuisine, which have been at the center of discussions. The fault lies with a gaffe by conservative President Yoon Suk Yeol which delighted Internet users and propelled the vegetable to the rank of rallying symbol of the opposition.

“Reasonable price”

It all started on March 18, when Yoon Suk Yeol, whose party is trying to regain control of Parliament, went to a fruit and vegetable store in Seoul, officially to see the prices of food, the inflation of products food being one of the main concerns of voters.

Inspecting a bunch of green onions, the latter said: “I visited many markets and 875 won (60 euro cents) for this is a reasonable price.”

Except that a bunch of green onions is generally sold for three or four times more in South Korea. Local media then discovered that the store, informed in advance, had lowered its prices on purpose just before the president’s visit.

This embarrassing hiccup sparked an avalanche of memes online. The left was quick to assert that the 63-year-old head of state was living disconnected from reality. And opposition candidates were quick to brandish green onions during their campaign rallies.

No onions allowed

South Koreans had the opportunity to vote in advance on Friday April 5 and Saturday April 6, which 13.8 million out of 44.2 million voters chose to do.

Concerned, the National Electoral Commission (NEC) announced on Saturday the ban on green onions near the polls, fearing “interference with the elections”.

“The expression of political opinions must be respected as much as possible, but diverting a certain thing from its initial function to make it a means of expression is likely to affect the vote,” justified the Commission in a press release.

The decision sparked widespread hilarity and a new avalanche of mocking memes on Korean-language social media over the weekend. The Commission’s decision also caused a rush for anything that even remotely resembles a green onion with the aim of defying the ban.

Some voters, however, began posting photos of themselves holding green onions at polling stations on social media, accompanied by hashtags such as #onionsverts875wons.

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