Rul­ing party sweeps lo­cal elec­tions

Hong Joon-pyo ex­pected to re­sign as LKP chair­man to­day

The Korea Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Choi Ha-young hay­oung.choi@ko­re­atimes.co.kr

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.

Rul­ing Demo­cratic Party of Korea Chair­woman Choo Mi-ae, cen­ter in the front row, and other party mem­bers ap­plaud at their cam­paign of­fice in the Na­tional Assem­bly after exit polls showed the party had achieved a land­slide vic­tory in the lo­cal elec­tions an

Yon­hap

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.

Ahn Cheol-soo

Yoo Seong-min

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