[2018 Local Elections] Ruling party scores sweeping victory in June elections: exit polls

Taking place in the sophomore year of the Moon Jae-in administration and at the height of pivotal peninsular dialogue, the June 13 local and parliamentary by-elections — dubbed the 쐌ini-general election — ended in a landslide victory for the ruling progressive party, reflecting the political sentiment here.

A joint exit poll by three major television broadcasters showed that the Democratic Party of Korea grasped 14 of the 17 metropolitan mayor and governor posts in Wednesday쁲 local elections, while the main opposition Liberty Korea Party was poised to win only two. In the parliamentary by-elections, held on the sidelines, the ruling party was seen to have secured 10 of the 12 legislative seats.

Rep. Choo Mi-ae, chief of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, marks final victories on the party’s ballot count headquarters on Wednesday night. (Yonhap)

The resounding victory was all the more conspicuous as it took place in spite of a number of recent political scandals and also in longtime stronghold regions of conservative powers.

In the Seoul mayoral race, incumbent Mayor Park Won-soon achieved the largely projected victory with 55.9 percent, according to exit polls, while runner-up opposition rivals Kim Moon-soo and Ahn Cheol-soo lingered at 21.2 percent and 18.8 percent respectively.

쏧 respect and humbly accept the stern decision of the Seoul citizens, said Ahn Cheol-soo of the Bareunmirae Party, who finished third in the race and is likely to face pressure to resign.

Ahn Cheol-soo of Bareunmirae Party leaves the party headquarters on Wednesday afternoon, after admitting his defeat in the Seoul mayoral race. (Yonhap)

In the Gyeonggi Province governor election, Lee Jae-myung was seen to have swept 59.3 percent, despite his alleged affair with an actress.

The mayoral races in Busan and Ulsan — both conservative strongholds in the southeastern part of the country — were led by progressive Democratic Party candidates.

쏷he buck stops here, wrote the Liberty Korea Party leader Hong Joon-pyo on his Facebook account, in the wake of the exit polls announcement, hinting at his resignation.

The slogan, used by US President Harry Truman, suggested that the senior politician shall take the blame and assume responsibility by stepping down.

The Liberty Korea Party chief Hong Joon-pyo remains in silence, upon hearing the exit poll announcement on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

The election results are expected to further empower the ruling party which has been gaining momentum from Moon셲 popularity and the ongoing inter-Korean dialogue.

The largely conservative opposition camp, in contrast, will have to reorganize itself before the next big races — the general election in 2020 and presidential election in 2022.

This year셲 quadrennial local and parliamentary by-elections, opening doors to a total of 4,016 local administrative, legislative and educational chief posts and 12 parliamentary seats, took place on the day after the historic summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

A citizens enters a polling booth in Seoul’s Seodaemun-gu on Wednesday morning. (Yonhap)

For the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, the electoral timing was optimal, with the recent progress on North Korean issues acting in favor of President Moon.

Local pollster Realmeter said Monday, based on a survey conducted last week of 2,008 eligible voters across the country, that the president셲 approval rating stood at 72.3 percent this week, up 0.9 percentage point from the previous week.

Despite some fluctuations following disputes on sluggish employment figures and top policymakers apparent feuds over the issue, the state chief셲 approval rating has remained in the 70 percent range since the inter-Korean summit in late April, marking a rare case of unfaltering popularity.

Though the latest polls were not released due to election rules, the support rate for the ruling party stood at 52 percent as of the first week of June, according to Realmeter. The main opposition Liberty Korea Party followed with 18.5 percent, while support for other minority parties remained in single digits.

The relatively high voter turnout was also seen as boosting the progressive party셲 performance. Including the two-day early voting participation standing 20.14 percent, the final voter turnout reached 60.2 percent, exceeding the targeted 60 percent, according to the National Election Commission.

By Bae Hyun-jung (tellme@heraldcorp.com)