New Gyeonggi governor bounced back from defeat
Now, he’s head of Korea’s most populous province – and a strong liberal contender for the presidential race of 2027.
Kim, who ran on a DP ticket, was declared Gyeonggi governor on Thursday morning in one of the tightest elections seen in Korean history. Exit polls from Wednesday evening had favored his rival Kim Eun-hye of President Yoon Suk-yeol’s People Power Party (PPP). But the margin kept shrinking as ballots were counted, and by the time 96 percent of votes were processed at 5:32 a.m., the DP’s Kim began to take the lead.
He ultimately won 49.06 percent to 48.91 percent, or by 8,913 votes.
Among the 17 main races for mayors and provincial governors Wednesday, the DP managed to win only the governorships of Gyeonggi, Jeju Island, South Jeolla and North Jeolla.
The races for Seoul mayor, Gyeonggi governor and Incheon mayor were considered the most crucial, as they collectively make up the populous Seoul metropolitan area. Incheon is west of Seoul, while Gyeonggi surrounds the capital.
All eyes are now on how Kim, who was an early finance minister for the Moon Jae-in administration, will do as Gyeonggi governor, and whether his performance will help elevate his political profile — in case he decides to run for president again five years later.
In order for Kim to use the new job to his political advantage, analysts who spoke with the JoongAng Ilbo Thursday say, one big task will be to distance himself from his predecessor, Lee.
In the early days of his campaign, Kim tried to promote his close bond with the failed presidential candidate, saying his policies would be an extension of Lee’s.
“He will have to show some sort of achievement in provincial affairs,” a senior lawmaker told the paper on the condition of anonymity. “Following in Lee’s footsteps won’t work to his advantage.”
A close aide to Kim said the new Gyeonggi governor was willing to detach himself from Lee and “walk his own path.”
Kim Hyung-joon, a political science and diplomacy professor at Myongji University, warned that Kim won’t be able to run provincial policies as smoothly as Lee, for 22 out of the province’s 31 local government offices were won by PPP candidates Wednesday, while the provincial legislature has also been almost evenly split between the DP and PPP, 71 to 70.
Governor Kim “can turn the crisis into an opportunity if he overcomes these hurdles by integrating [the PPP and DP] and shows cooperative leadership,” said Prof. Kim.
BY KIM JUN-YOUNG, LEE SUNG-EUN [firstname.lastname@example.org]