Ahn, Saenuri win by-elections
The big loser in yesterday’s three national by-elections and nine elections for regional governments and local legislative councils was the Democratic United Party, the country’s largest opposition with 127 lawmakers in the National Assembly.
With dramatic realignments in the political sector expected after the by-elections, the DUP has been reduced to a supporting actor looking on from the sidelines.
The by-elections for 12 positions were relatively small in scale, but political heavyweights ran in the three races for the National Assembly.
In Nowon C District of Seoul, software mogul and liberal darling Ahn managed to finally become an elected politician after a humiliating debut in politics with a failed independent bid for the presidency last year. As of 9:50 last night, Ahn had 57.2 percent of the votes with 23.5 percent of the votes counted. Ahn ran as an independent against the Saenuri Party’s Huh Joon-young, who had 36.2 percent of the votes, and Kim Ji-seon of the Progressive Justice Party, who had 5.8 percent.
In Busan’s Yeongdo District, the Saenuri Party’s Kim Moo-sung, a key associate of President Park Geun-hye, had 67.1 percent of the vote as of 9:30 p.m. The DUP fielded a political rookie, Kim Bi-oh, who had 23.6 percent.
In the Buyeo-Cheongyang District in South Chungcheong, the ruling party fielded former South Chungcheong Gov. Lee One-koo, and the DUP fielded Hwang In-seok, a former public servant. As of 9:30 p.m., Lee was leading with 78.3 percent, while Hwang had 17 percent.
According to the National Election Commission, the turnout of the by-elections was 33.7 percent. Nowon C recorded 43.5 percent, a reflection of the energizing effect of Ahn’s candidacy.
The outcomes were predicted in advance for the three assembly races, but they are sure to have significance.
Ahn’s final arrival in politics is expected to force a major realignment of forces on the liberal side. And despite his pulling out of the race last year after being outmaneuvered by the DUP’s Moon Jae-in, he is still considered a presidential wannabe for 2017 with his promise of “new politics” for voters. In the past Ahn has said he has yet to decide whether he will create a new political party or join the DUP after the election. The victory of Kim Moo-sung in Yeongdo, Busan, also hints at a power restructuring inside the ruling party. Kim, a former floor leader, was credited for helping Park win the presidency by leading her campaign. He is expected to be a strong contender to be the next chairman of the Saenuri Party.
With strong influence over Chungcheong, Lee is also expected to strengthen his status in the ruling party. When he said he was running in the by-election, Lee revealed his ambition by saying, “I won’t just be a lawmaker with regional influence.”
The by-elections starkly illustrated the subsiding influence of the DUP, despite being the second-largest political party and having received more than 120.8 billion won ($108.1 million) in subsidies in 2012.
“Nowon B District by-election proved that the liberals can have an election without the DUP,” said Kang Won-taek, political science professor of Seoul National University.
Since the 2007 presidential race, the DUP has either failed to produce candidates for major elections - like in Nowon C yesterday - or suffered defeats. The DUP’s Chung Dong-young lost the 2007 presidential election to Lee Myung-bak by five million votes.
The situation grew worse in the 2008 legislative election. While Lee’s Grand National Party, the predecessor of the Saenuri Party, won 153 seats in the legislature to control an absolute majority, the Democrats only managed to win 81 seats. While it managed to score a handful of victories in the 2009 by-elections, the DUP lost to the GNP again in 2010. The Democrats won three seats while the GNP won four.
The DUP scored important victories in the April 2011 by-elections as it won the Gangwon governorship and Bundang B District. It, however, did not field a candidate in Gimhae and Suncheon allowing one victory each to its conservative and progressive rivals.
The Democrats scored a major victory once again in the 2010 local elections, but it was a short-lived glory as the party quickly fell into its own trap of having an electoral alliance with other liberal contenders in the Seoul mayoral by-election in 2011.
On the eve of the election, the liberals held a primary to consolidate their candidacies and the DUP’s Park Young-sun lost to independent Park Won-soon. Park Won-soon ran independently and, with the endorsement of Ahn Cheol-soo, became Seoul mayor, robbing the DUP of one of the more important positions in the country.
The Saenuri Party creamed the DUP in both the general election and the presidential election last year. The Saenuri won 152 out of 300 seats in the National Assembly, keeping its majority, while the DUP won 127. In last year’s presidential election, the DUP’s Moon lost to Park by a million votes after Ahn dropped out bitterly and gave him a half-hearted endorsement.
Over the past four months, the Democrats licked their wounds and tried to put themselves together, but factionalist strife and a long-running blame game widened their splits. Moon and other Roh Moo-hyun loyalists were held responsible for the presidential defeat, while the party faced an identity crisis as it attempts to redefine itself with a more centrist platform.
By Ser Myo-ja [email@example.com]