[2018 Local Elections] June elections reflect political sentiment in midst of peninsular talks

By Bae Hyun-jung

Ruling party benefits from peninsular momentum, opposition seeks rebound ahead of 2020 main event

Published : Jun 13, 2018 - 15:59
Updated : Jun 13, 2018 - 23:29

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 “mini-general election” – have functioned as an intermediary gauge for political sentiment here.

While Moon’s ruling party focused on securing more parliamentary seats for the sake of policy leverage, the largely conservative and fractured opposition camp has seen the event as restructuring momentum ahead of bigger fights to come.

South Korea’s quadrennial local elections, along with the by-elections to fill parliamentary vacancies, kicked off Wednesday at 6 a.m. at 14,134 polling stations across the country, one day following the historic summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

In this year’s race, a total of 4,028 local administrative, legislative and educational chief posts are at stake, including Seoul’s mayoral position and 12 parliamentary seats.


A citizen enters a polling booth in Seoul's Seodaemun-gu on Wednesday, the day of the nation's June 13 local and parliamentary by-elections. (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 adults across the country, that the president’s 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 chief’s 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 other minority parties remained in single digits.

The relatively high voter turnout was also seen as boosting the progressive party’s chances, with two-day early voting recording 20.14 percent. While the National Election Commission targeted a final turnout of 60 percent or more, turnout for local elections stood at 50.1 percent and that of by-elections at 50.6 percent as of 2 p.m.

The real task for the ruling party was to secure as many of the 12 parliamentary seats as possible in order to build on its hard-achieved legislative lead of 119 of the 300 seats, which narrowly outpaces runner-up Liberty Korea Party, by just seven seats.

The Liberty Korea Party and centrist Bareunmirae Party, on the other hand, have adopted a “second string” strategy, vying to make a presence as the best alternative for centrist-conservative voters in the next parliamentary and presidential elections.

It was the Seoul mayoral race that underlined the two opposition parties’ sharp conflict over the No. 2 position. While Democratic Party candidate and incumbent Mayor Park Won-soon kept a visible lead all throughout the race, Kim Moon-soo of the Liberty Korea Party and Ahn Cheol-soo of the Bareunmirae Party exchanged fierce blows to the last minute.

Though neither Kim nor Ahn appeared within reach of winning the position, their runner-up rivalry was taken as a preliminary power struggle for the next few years.

The two parties previously were faced with growing pressure of merger or at least partial candidate unification, but attempts were thwarted amid fierce backlash.

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

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