Ruling party wins elections by landslide
The landslide victory means liberals now control 14 out of 17 major provincial and mayoral seats.
Among the provinces, only North Gyeongsang and Jeju did not go to the DP. In the country’s major cities, Democrats only lost Daegu, a staunchly conservfative stronghold, to incumbent Kwon Young-jin of the Liberty Korea Party (LKP).
The Democratic sweep, coming a year into Moon’s term, represents a powerful endorsement of his administration, and comes on the heels of record approval ratings for both the president and the ruling party.
It will provide momentum for the government’s liberal agenda, a break from 10 years of conservative administrations.
For the opposition LKP, this year’s elections were a crushing defeat and reminder that the conservative party has yet to win back the support of disenchanted voters after President Park Geun-hye was impeached and imprisoned on charges of corruption and abuse of power last year.
In the Seoul mayoral election, sitting Mayor Park Won-soon carried an easy victory with 52.8 percent of votes, snatching a third four-year term. He will be the first Seoul mayor to serve three terms in office. The LKP’s Kim Moon-soo and Bareunmirae’s Ahn Cheol-soo came in a distant second and third.
For Ahn, the loss represented yet another political disappointment after two failed presidential runs.
The failed mayoral bid raises questions about his political future and whether it might finally be over.
In Busan, the country’s second-largest city, DP candidate Oh Keo-don easily defeated incumbent Suh Byung-soo of the LKP by nearly 20 percent. The Busan defeat is especially stinging for the LKP since the city has traditionally supported conservatives.
The DP won every gubernatorial race except for North Gyeongsang, which went to the LKP, and Jeju, where the incumbent, Won Hee-ryong, an independent and former member of conservative parties, kept his seat.
The liberal party’s victories in North and South Chungcheong were significant since both are considered swing states. In North Chungcheong, incumbent Lee Si-jong of the DP earned 61.2 percent of votes, while the LKP candidate earned 29.7 percent.
In the Gyeonggi gubernatorial race, an extramarital affair involving DP candidate Lee Jae-myung appeared to have little impact on the result, with the populist Lee winning 56.4 percent of votes, over LKP contender Nam Kyung-pil’s 35.5 percent.
In South Gyeongsang, a political scandal engulfing DP candidate Kim Kyoung-soo, a confidant of President Moon accused of being involved in a campaign to manipulate online opinion, also didn’t seem to faze voters.
He scored a victory against LKP contender Kim Tae-ho, winning 52.7 percent of votes. Kim Tae-ho, a former South Gyeongsang governor, hoped to bank on his rival’s scandal to win back the seat he held from 2004 to 2010.
Aside from the local races, there were also by-elections for 12 National Assembly seats, 11 of which went to the DP. This means the liberal party now controls 130 National Assembly seats.
The LKP won just one seat, bringing their total to 113. The party’s criticism of recent improvements in inter-Korean relations pushed away many center and right-of-center voters, who tired of the conservatives’ hawkish rhetoric toward the North.
Many voters felt the party failed to recognize the dramatic shift taking place amid historic summits between the two Koreas’ leaders and between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump.
Sensing the looming prospect of a crushing defeat, the LKP leadership appealed to voters with arguments that there must be checks and balances on the Moon government, a campaign tactic that failed to sway voters.
The party is now expected to undergo a major reshuffle in its leadership. Hong Joon-pyo, the current chairman, may be replaced.
The election was also a big disappointment for the two other opposition parties, the center-right Bareunmirae Party and center-left Party for Democracy and Peace. The two parties failed to win any seats in the 17 key races or 12 by-elections.
Voting took place at 14,134 polling stations around the country on Wednesday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Early voting took place on Friday and Saturday. The turnout was 60.2 percent, the highest in 23 years.
The local-level elections were the seventh of their kind since provincial offices were opened up to direct election in 1995. Up for grabs were 4,016 gubernatorial, mayoral, local council and superintendent seats.
The by-elections were for 12 seats in the National Assembly that were vacant since the 2016 general election.
BY KANG JIN-KYU [firstname.lastname@example.org]