DP’s victory deals disastrous blow to minor parties

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DP’s victory deals disastrous blow to minor parties

The ruling Democratic Party (DP)’s landslide victory in Wednesday’s general elections delivered devastating blows to minor parties, leaving many of their heavyweights pondering their political futures.

It was the first time in two decades that a party outside the two main party blocs failed to win more than a single-digit number of seats, effectively restoring the power balance in the legislature to a two-party system.

The worst defeat suffered by a party with seats in the current National Assembly was dealt to the Minsaengdang, which saw its seat share drop from 20 to zero.

With the majority of its current representatives based in districts in the Jeolla region, the party saw its hopes to remain in the legislature evaporate after the DP won every seat in South Jeolla and Gwangju, and nine out of 10 seats in North Jeolla.

The Minsaengdang also picked up no proportional representatives after just failing to meet the 3 percent threshold required to receive a seat.

Notable heavyweights in the party were handily defeated by DP candidates in district races.

Chung Dong-young, a four-term lawmaker who was the presidential candidate for the United New Democratic Party - a predecessor to the DP - in 2007, lost his seat in Jeonju C by a margin of more than 30 percent to the DP’s Kim Seong-ju.

Chun Jung-bae, who served six terms representing a variety of districts, also lost his home district of Gwangju Seo B.

Chun, who served as former President Roh Moo-hyun’s justice minister in 2005, lost by more than a 50 percent margin to newcomer Yang Hyang-ja of the DP.

Only Park Jie-won, a four-term lawmaker famed for his political acumen, put up a more competitive fight with his district of Mokpo, South Jeolla, but he too lost to the DP’s Kim Won-yi by more than 10 percent.

Sohn Hak-kyu, the party’s elections chief and a political giant in his own right, on Thursday admitted responsibility for the defeat, saying the party’s abject failure in these elections testified to the internal disorder and insecurity it projected.

Only three minor parties survived the DP tidal wave on Wednesday, though one of them, the Open Minjoo Party, is a self-proclaimed satellite of the DP in the same vein as the DP’s official sister party, the Citizen Party.

The leftist Justice Party managed to retain its current six seats after its leader, Rep. Sim Sang-jeung, was reelected in Gyeonggi’s Goyang A in a three-way race.

The party also received 9.6 percent of a nationwide vote for proportional representatives - an increase from the 7.2 percent it received in the 2016 general elections - but this only translated to five proportional seats as the DP and the main opposition United Future Party (UFP)’s satellite parties swept up 17 and 19 seats each.

The Justice Party had initially hoped to expand its size in the legislature significantly with a change to the electoral system last year that gave an advantage to parties that win few or no district races.

The emergence of the two major parties’ satellites, however, dashed such hopes Wednesday, and Sim shed tears in front of the press Thursday lamenting the failure to break a system of two-party dominance.

The party’s other candidates all lost by large margins, testifying to the punishing nature of Korea’s winner-take-all single-member district races.

Disappointment was also palpable in the People’s Party, which won three proportional seats with a vote share of 6.7 percent on Wednesday.

The party’s leader, the perennial presidential hopeful Ahn Cheol-soo, ran his party’s campaign on a centrist platform critical of both of Korea’s major parties, but his odd decision to run a marathon across the country did little to sway moderate voters to his cause.

For Ahn, who twice ran for president unsuccessfully on a non-aligned and third-party ticket, Wednesday’s results mean that he may have little choice left but to cooperate more closely with the conservative opposition UFP.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]
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