Fall of conservatives
Election outcome reflects discontent in old politics
The June 13 elections can be summed up as the crushing fall of conservative politics. The main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) managed to win only two out of the 17 governor and mayoral posts in the local elections, while the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) took 14 and Won Hee-ryong took Jeju governor’s post as an independent. In addition, the ruling party also took 11 out of 12 National Assembly seats in by-elections.
It was shocking for the largest opposition party that it even failed to win in its traditional strongholds. The devastating election defeat prompted LKP leader Hong Joon-pyo to resign Thursday, saying, “it is all my fault and all the responsibility for the defeat lies with me.” Yoo Seong-min, a co-leader of the minor opposition Bareunmirae Party, also resigned following his party’s disastrous performance, with Ahn Cheol-soo, a former presidential candidate, coming in a distant third in the Seoul mayoral election.
The outcome of the local elections is not surprising given that the conservative parties have failed to reinvent themselves after the corruption scandal of former President Park Geun-hye. They did not properly respond to the people’s needs and failed to catch up with the times.
Hong’s disoriented leadership was also a huge impediment to regaining the people’s trust in conservative politics.
The local elections were deemed as the people’s judgment on President Moon Jae-in’s performance a year after he took office in May 2017. The high voter turnout of 60.2 percent, the highest in 23 years, shows the public’s keen interest these elections. The DPK’s landslide victory, which came just one day after the historic U.S-North Korea summit in Singapore, shows strong public support for Moon’s diplomacy with North Korea and various reform initiatives.
It is particularly noteworthy that Moon’s party attained terrific results in conservative strongholds. In the second-largest city of Busan, Oh Geo-don who served the cabinet of former President Roh Moo-hyun, won the mayoral election. Kim Kyoung-soo, a close aide of President Moon, won the post of governor of South Gyeongsang Province despite his alleged involvement in an online manipulation scandal. Song Cheol-ho, a former human rights lawyer who also served in the Roh administration, took the Ulsan mayoral election.
The DPK was visibly jubilant, but it should not be complacent about the election victory. As the president said in a statement afterward, the DPK’s victory did not mean that the public was happy with his administration’s performance in all areas. President Moon still has much work ahead to improve the hopeless job situation and turn around the economy. The President and the ruling party must uphold the spirit of cooperative politics with the opposition to achieve maximum results in state affairs.