[News analysis] General election empowers Democratic Party in 2nd half of Moon presidency

Posted on : 2020-04-16 18:13 KST Modified on : 2020-04-16 18:17 KST
Landslide victory also a message of responsibility for fighting COVID-19 and economic slump
South Korean President Moon Jae-in presides over a Cabinet meeting at the Blue House on Apr. 14. (Blue House photo pool)
South Korean President Moon Jae-in presides over a Cabinet meeting at the Blue House on Apr. 14. (Blue House photo pool)

South Korea’s parliamentary elections on Apr. 15 resulted in an unprecedented landslide victory for the ruling party, giving the Blue House a firm and stable foundation for carrying out its agenda in the second half of Moon Jae-in’s presidency. With Moon receiving most of the credit for the Democratic Party’s triumph, the Blue House is expected to firm up its grip on the levers of the government. While Moon will be entering the fourth year of his presidency on May 10, experts think he’ll be able to avoid the lame duck period in his last two years in office.

Many political pundits believe that the Blue House was basically behind the ruling party’s electoral victory. While the COVID-19 pandemic is obviously a crisis, it paradoxically gave the government an opportunity to turn the tables in this election. As the election approached, the number of new coronavirus cases fell to around 30 a day.

Meanwhile, Moons’ approval rating shot up above 55% in several public opinion polls, pulling up support for the ruling party along with it. This had the inevitable result of subverting the opposition party’s attempts to make the election a referendum on the current administration.

“The ruling party’s strong showing in the election owes a lot to Moon, who people regard as doing a good job in responding to the coronavirus. I think we’ll be seeing more power shifting to Moon,” said Jang Seong-cheol, director of the Center for Empathy and Policy Debate. And since this parliamentary election was the last major election during Moon’s election, and thus the last chance for the public to weigh in on his performance, the outcome is likely to stabilize his control of government affairs.

The victory in the election is also expected to energize the Blue House to take more aggressive action in stimulating the economy and dealing with COVID-19. Moon’s confidence was evident even on Apr. 14, the day before the election, when he urged people to apply for basic disaster allowances in advance, without waiting for the National Assembly to pass the second supplementary budget.

In addition, the Blue House is likely to gain the upper hand in its relationship with the Democratic Party. “Even though Moon is moving into the latter half of his presidency, he’s less likely to find himself in conflict with the ruling party,” said Yu Chang-seon, a political commentator. According to Yu, party leaders and presidential hopefuls are unlikely to pick fights with the Blue House during the upcoming party convention and for some time to come.

Blue House needs to compromise with opposition in upcoming National Assembly

But if the Blue House is too brash in elbowing its way to the front, it could face harsher pushback from the opposition party, which would complicate its political agenda. “The opposition party is likely to regain the focus that was lacking in the election campaign, and the 21st National Assembly could once again be hobbled by extreme partisanship. [The Blue House] needs to be as conciliatory and compromising as possible,” suggested Lee Jun-han, a professor of political science and diplomacy at Incheon National University.

The Blue House is taking a cautious stance on the election results. “The fact that the public has granted us this victory, just as they did in the presidential election and local elections in previous years, probably means that they’re counting on us to overcome the COVID-19 crisis and to salvage their livelihoods. That inevitably puts immense pressure and heavy responsibility on those of us at the Blue House,” said a senior official at the presidential office.

“The most critical task is responding to the employment and economic crises that we’re about to face. We don’t have time to worry about anything else,” another Blue House official affirmed. The Blue House is reportedly adjusting the key items on its policy agenda in line with the changes in the economic and social situation that the pandemic is likely to bring.

By Seong Yeon-cheol, staff reporter

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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