Ruling party sweeps local elections
Hong Joon-pyo expected to resign as LKP chairman today
The ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) swept the local elections as well as by-elections for 12 empty National Assembly seats, Wednesday, according to exit polls released after the elections finished at 6 p.m.
The polls showed that the DPK clinched 14 out of 17 governor and mayoral posts. The largest conservative Liberty Korea Party (LKP) managed to win in the mayoral and governor elections in Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province — its traditional strongholds. Independent candidate Won Hee-ryong won the Jeju governor’s post.
The DPK overwhelmingly won in southeast regions including South Gyeongsang Province, Ulsan and Busan, exit polls showed. The party had never won elections in these regions before.
The outcome means the liberal party successfully overcame deep-rooted hostilities in these areas, largely thanks to the high popularity of President Moon Jae-in. Former DPK lawmaker Kim Kyoung-soo won the South Gyeongsang gubernatorial election, with support of 56.8 percent according to exit polls — the first time for a liberal candidate. However, as of 10 p.m. during the actual count of 10 percent of the votes, Kim Tae-ho of the LKP was leading by 5.5 percentage points.
Oh Geo-don of the DPK received 58.6 percent in Busan, while Song Cheol-ho who ran in the Ulsan mayoral election got 55.3 percent, according to exit polls.
Incumbent Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon became the first-ever three-term Seoul mayor by gaining 55.9 percent. Park’s support rate was far ahead of rival conservative candidates — Kim Moon-soo of the LKP with 21.2 percent and Ahn Cheol-soo of the Bareunmirae Party, who only received a mere 18.8 percent.
The DPK also won 11 out of 12 by-elections. As a result, the number of the ruling party’s seats increased to 129 in the 300-member National Assembly. The result reveals widespread antipathy toward the LKP, which kept boycotting legislative affairs to protest the ruling camp’s policies.
The by-elections widened the gap between the DPK and the LKP, since the latter is likely to add only one seat to make 113 in total. The LKP only won in Gimcheon, North Gyeongsang Province — a traditionally conservative district.
DPK Chairwoman Choo Mi-ae judged the outcome as encouragement for the Moon administration. “The party is grateful for such great support to boost our efforts in pioneering the way for peace,” she said in a televised interview.
“The party views the voters have lauded the ruling camp’s bid to put an end to the Cold War and pave the way toward peace and prosperity. The outcome of the exit polls was detected from the early stages of the elections.”
The DPK touted the slogan “Peace and Economy” in line with Moon’s efforts for inter-Korean rapprochement. The party’s strategy worked in Gangwon Province, which shares a border with North Korea. The DPK’s Gangwon governor candidate Choi Moon-soon won re-election.
The popularity of the DPK was also dominant in the proportional representation system in votes to form local councils. In a vote for city councilors, it received support of 53.8 percent, equivalent to 53 councilors, according to the poll conducted by Realmeter.
The LKP, which received 18.7 percent, is expected to get 18 seats. Unexpectedly, the Justice Party finished in third place with 9.7 percent, ahead of the third-largest Bareunmirae Party with 6.1 percent and fourth-largest Party for Democracy and Peace with 3.7 percent.
The result was similar in the votes to form district councils. The DPK garnered 53.9 percent, followed by the LKP with 19.3 percent, the Justice Party with 8.4 percent, Bareunmirae Party with 6.3 percent and the Party for Democracy and Peace (PDP) with 2.7 percent.
The bitter defeat of the conservatives is expected to give a serious blow to parties and candidates. Ahn, who came in third place in the Seoul mayoral race, could lose the initiative in any possible political realignment, specifically the merger of the two conservative parties.
They have eyed integration to counter the growing influence of the ruling party. In an attempt to grasp the strongest position in the envisioned merger, Ahn and Kim Moon-soo exchanged barbs, calling on each other to drop out of the race.
LKP Chairman Hong Joon-pyo’s leadership is also at stake. The outspoken party leader is expected to resign from the post as early as today, taking responsibility for a crushing defeat in the elections.
“The buck stops here,” Hong posted on Facebook, indicating his possible resignation. Party floor leader Kim Sung-tae said the result was “heartbreaking.”Sohn Hak-kyu, who led the Bareunmirae Party’s election campaign, expressed regret for the result.
“The outcome will let us look back over our past path as a centrist party,” Sohn said. “The recent political landscape has been disadvantageous for us, making it difficult to highlight our role.”
The PDP was also disappointed by the result. The party had eyed posts primarily in Gwangju and the Jeolla provinces, but the DPK swept these areas. The minor progressive Justice Party, which got better-than-expected results, was upbeat.
“The election was a judgment on the LKP,” said Chairwoman Lee Jeong-mi.
In total, 60.1 percent of South Koreans took part in the elections. The turnout exceeded that of 2014 which stood at 56.8 percent. This is the first time since 1995 that the local election turnout was over 60 percent.
The results from the local elections and by-elections, Wednesday, are expected to serve as a wakeup call for conservative parties.
Most of all, the elections will give a reality check to the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) as it lost in the most fierce battlegrounds.
The Bareunmirae Party, which claims to be the “true” conservative party of South Korea, lost the Seoul mayoral election with its candidate Ahn Cheol-soo, a former presidential contender.
Considering the elections were considered a litmus test for liberal President Moon Jae-in, the results showed a large number of swing voters have turned their backs on the conservative parties. It appears painstaking reform is inevitable for the conservative parties to regain public trust and prepare for future elections.
The LKP’s outspoken Chairman Hong Joon-pyo will likely be urged to step down from his post, according to his earlier remarks that he would quit if the party could not secure six chief posts out of 17 metropolitan mayoralties and provincial governorships.
The Bareunmirae Party will also likely seek a merger with other parties as it has lost face in the Seoul mayoral election, in which party members insisted their standard bearer was the sole conservative can- didate.
“If the Bareunmirae Party is defeated in the local elections, there is the possibility several Bareunmirae Party members would join the LKP,” Myongji University professor of political science Kim Hyung-jun said.
Currently, the LKP has 112 National Assembly seats while the DPK has 118. The minor opposition Bareunmirae Party has 30 seats, while the Party of Democracy and Peace (PDP) has 14 and the Justice Party has six.
Critics point out the conservatives have only themselves to blame for the devastating defeat. They are opposed to most of the ruling party’s platform without having a strategic approach or policies for future generations.
“The reasons behind this sad downfall of conservatives are that not only did they fail to provide policies and strategies for the future generations but they just continued to fight without self-reflection,” Kim said.
Hong, who has been portrayed as a symbolic figure for opposing the government, is experiencing a backlash from his party members and citizens in general for his blunt remarks. Many LKP election candidates refused endorsements by Hong during the campaign as Hong was not helpful but had a negative effect on them.
Last month, four-term lawmaker Kang Ghil-boo quit the LKP following a feud with Hong while senior lawmakers asked Hong to tone down his rhetoric.
Rep. Kim Sung-tae, floor leader of the LKP, went on a hunger strike calling for special prosecutors to investigate an opinion-rigging allegation involving a ruling party lawmaker. However, the public ridiculed his action as he was taking advantage of his authority only to benefit his party to use the situation for political purposes.
When asked why the conservatives could not cut ties with the former presidents who are in prison, insiders say many party members have personal connections with Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak.
“Their numbers are small, but still some LKP lawmakers are inheriting the legacy from previous conservative administrations,” an LKP official said on condition of anonymity.
“Even though the two former presidents are obviously failing, the LKP members cannot cut ties with them as they are still connected in sentiment and finance.”
Critics point out voters are more focused on the ruling party’s opposition to past conservatives’ irregularities rather than the opposition parties’ criticism of the Moon government’s economic shortcomings.
“However, there is still big disappointment with the former conservative administrations of Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak, and Moon Jae-in’s government gained more popularity thanks to the North Korea-U.S. summit and North Korea-related issues,” Kim Yong-chul of Pusan National University was quoted as saying.
Main opposition Liberty Korea Party Chairman Hong Joon-pyo leaves a campaign office in silence after exit poll results for local elections as well as by-elections for empty National Assembly seats were announced at 6 p.m., Wednesday. Hong is expected to step down from the post, Thursday, taking responsibility for a crushing defeat in the elections.