Lessons for both partiesElection results reflect public sentiment. The by-elections on Wednesday were held for only two seats in the National Assembly, but the voters’ message was meaningful. They sent a warning that they are not happy with the liberal Moon Jae-in administration that they chose two years ago. The opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) managed to secure one out of the two available seats despite the headwinds against the ruling power, which suggests that it has a hold, albeit fragile, over some voters.
Still, the results were harder on the ruling power. Voter turnout better underscores the change in the voters’ sentiment. In the by-elections, the rate typically is in the 30 percent range. In the July 30, 2014, by-elections, where 15 seats were available, the turnout was 32.9 percent. But the turnouts for elections in Seongsan District in Changwon and Goseong County in Tongyeong — both located in South Gyeongsang — was 51.2 percent, the highest turnout yet for by-elections. The fact that more than half of the voters cast their ballots suggests that many had been determined to give their judgement on the ruling Democratic Party (DP).
In the gubernatorial and mayoral elections in June 13 last year, DP candidate Kim Kyoung-soo crushed his LKP rival Kim Tae-ho with 61.3 percent of the vote to become the governor of South Gyeongsang. The DP also won the mayoral race for Changwon and Tongyeong by a big margin. Yet in the Wednesday by-elections, Yeo Young-guk of the Justice Party, who was supported by the DP, managed to win only by a margin of 504 votes against his LKP rival. The Changwon economy has been devastated by the government’s policy of phasing out nuclear reactors. Key reactor equipment maker Doosan Heavy Industries is enforcing rotating breaks for employees due to reduced work. Closing nuclear reactors and sharp hikes in the minimum wage helped them turn their backs on the government. The Blue House also has lost face due to real estate speculation and other ethical questions over former presidential spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom and nominees to head ministries.
If the ruling party does not change its ways, the same phenomenon could pan out in the general elections next year. The LKP also must not believe that public sentiment has totally swung in their direction. It will be shunned if it does not propose a better alternative to the ruling party. Next year’s election results will depend on how each party reflects public sentiment from the by-elections.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 5, Page 34