Ballot count shows opposition’s Oh Se-hoon on track to victory in Seoul mayoral by-election

April 7, 2021

Oh Se-hoon of the main opposition People Power Party (PPP) was on track to win the Seoul mayoral seat by a landslide in Wednesday’s by-elections, the initial ballot count showed, dealing a crushing blow to President Moon Jae-in and his ruling party ahead of next year’s presidential election.

Oh was leading Park Young-sun of the ruling Democratic Party (DP) 57 percent to 40 percent as of 00:30 a.m. Thursday, with the vote count in the capital 62 percent complete, according to the National Election Commission.

In a joint exit poll conducted by three broadcasters — KBS, MBC and SBS — Oh defeated Park 59 percent to 37.7 percent.

For the mayoral race in Busan, the country’s second-largest city, PPP candidate Park Heong-joon was also on course to beat DP rival Kim Young-choon.

Park was running far ahead of Kim 63 percent to 34 percent, with 91 percent of all the ballots counted.

The victories, if sealed, will break the ruling bloc’s streak of four consecutive electoral triumphs, consisting of two general elections in 2016 and 2020, local elections in 2018 and the presidential election in 2017.

Oh Se-hoon, candidate of the main opposition People Power Party, raises his hands up with a bouquet of flowers in one hand at the party headquarters in Seoul on April 8, 2021 as early ballot count indicates his victory in the Seoul mayoral by-election. (Yonhap)
Park Heong-joon, the Busan mayoral candidate of the People Power Party, erupts in joy following the release of an exit poll on April 7, 2021. (Yonhap)
The Democratic Party's Seoul mayoral candidate Park Young-sun heads to the party's headquarters in Seoul following an exit poll in favor of the main opposition party on April 7, 2021. (Yonhap)

Oh Se-hoon, candidate of the main opposition People Power Party, raises his hands up with a bouquet of flowers in one hand at the party headquarters in Seoul on April 8, 2021 as early ballot count indicates his victory in the Seoul mayoral by-election. (Yonhap)

As the election results clearly tilt toward the PPP, the DP and its two mayoral candidates practically conceded their defeats.

“(DP) humbly accepts the public sentiment displayed in the election results. We gave huge disappointment to the people due to our shortcomings,” the party’s acting chairman Kim Tae-nyeon said in a press release.

The likely election victories for the opposition party are a stark reminder of the frustration and outrage the voters have against the Moon government and the ruling party.

The ruling bloc has been grappling with falling opinion poll ratings over spiking housing prices, as well as a land speculation scandal involving public housing development officials, which erupted a month before the election day.

The DP’s recent railroading of progressive bills, including those on weakening the power of the state prosecution service, has also drawn heat.

The DP has also been on weak moral standing as the two mayoral by-elections were called after the previous mayors — Park Won-soon in Seoul and Oh Keo-don in Busan, both affiliated with the liberal party — left the posts last year amid sexual harassment allegations.

Welcoming the exit poll results, PPP interim chief Kim Chong-in said they reflect the public’s anger toward the Moon administration.

“I think the elections mark a victory of the people’s common sense … this may be the expression of the people’s rage toward the government today,” Kim said, suggesting that the final election results remain to be seen.

Oh’s victory, if confirmed, will reinstate him to the mayoral seat of Seoul, home to nearly 10 million of the country’s total 52 million population. He left the post at the midpoint of his second term in 2011, in protest against the opposition-dominated city council’s introduction of a free school lunch program for all students.

The new mayors of the two cities will serve out the remaining 14 months of the former mayors’ four-year terms.

Besides the two mayoral seats, 19 other regional public posts were up for grabs in the by-elections, including the county governor for Uiryeong in South Gyeongsang Province and a ward office head in the southeastern city of Ulsan.

The provisional voter turnouts for the Seoul and Busan elections came to 58.2 percent and 52.7 percent, respectively, surpassing the 50-percent level for the first time in by-elections that included races for heads of metropolitan governments.

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