Opposition candidates win Seoul, Busan mayor by-elections

Posted on : 2021-04-08 16:41 KST Modified on : 2021-04-08 16:41 KST
The ruling Democratic Party suffers a devastating defeat
Oh Se-hoon, then-candidate of the People Power Party for Seoul mayoral by-election, celebrates the result of an exit poll at the party headquarters in Seoul on Wednesday. (pool photo)
Oh Se-hoon, then-candidate of the People Power Party for Seoul mayoral by-election, celebrates the result of an exit poll at the party headquarters in Seoul on Wednesday. (pool photo)

Seoul mayoral candidate Oh Se-hoon and Busan mayoral candidate Park Hyung-jun defeated their respective Democratic Party opponents Park Young-sun and Kim Young-choon in the by-elections Wednesday.

A concerted scrutiny campaign and tearful eleventh-hour appeal by the Democratic Party failed to make a dent in the PPP’s campaign keynote of “putting the administration on trial.”

Not only has the election snapped the Democratic Party’s streak of four nationwide election victories since the 2016 general elections, but it has also raised expectations that the PPP can rebuild its support base and carry forward the momentum of its pushback against the ruling party at a crucial moment with the next presidential election less than one year away.

In the Seoul mayoral election, Oh won 57.5% of the vote, putting him 18.3 percentage points ahead of Democratic Party candidate Park Young-sun’s 39.2%. In Busan, Park Hyung-jun won 62.7% of the vote, 26.3 percentage points ahead of opponent Kim Young-choon’s 34.4%.

The voting and exit poll results that day didn’t deviate much from what various surveys had pointed to before the prohibition period on announcing polling results.

A survey of 1,012 Seoul citizens by the Hankyoreh and Kstat Research on March 30-31 showed 54.4% of respondents backing Oh and 33.5% backing Park Young-sun. Other surveys conducted around the same time showed Oh ahead of Park by 15 to 20 percentage points.

In Busan, surveys similarly showed Park Hyung-jun maintaining a consistent lead of about 20 percentage points over Kim. The ruling party never recovered the popular support it lost as revelations of inappropriate behavior by government officials compounded mounting frustrations over policy failures and mixed messages in the area of real estate.

The Democratic Party was in shock and tumult over the harsh judgment it faced from voters less than one year after it claimed a landslide victory with 180 seats in the 2020 general elections.

With the next presidential election less than one year away, it faces some serious tasks in terms of reforms to the party, administration and Blue House, the establishment of new leadership, and steps to boost policy capabilities.

Having yielded Seoul to the Democratic Party for the 10 years since Oh stepped down during his previous stint as mayor in 2011, the PPP now looks poised to use its “recapturing” of the capital as a stepping stone as it restructures the political terrain and shores up its base ahead of the presidential election.

Visiting the PPP headquarters around midnight with his election more or less assured, Oh said he could “not contain the sense of great responsibility that weighs on my chest.”

“I will take being given this opportunity to work again at such an urgent time as an imperative to tend to the many Seoul residents who are suffering right now, working quickly and skillfully to resolve each of the many issues we face,” he added.

In a statement released the same night, Lee Nak-yon, co-chair of the Democratic Party’s election committee, said that he “humbly accept[s] the people’s choice.”

“I will keep in mind the sentiments expressed with this election, reflect upon them, and implement reforms,” he added.

The final voting rate for the by-election was tentatively calculated at 55.5% as of 8 pm that day. This included rates of 58.2% for Seoul and 52.7% for Busan.

By Seo Young-ji, staff reporter

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

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