Ruling party, rival split S. Korean vote

June 5, 2014


electionkBy Kang Seung-woo

The June 4 local elections hit a partisan equilibrium.

Neither the ruling Saenuri Party nor the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) emerged as a clear winner. The Saenuri Party won eight out of 17 mayoral and gubernatorial races including Gyeonggi Province and Incheon, while NPAD bagged the remaining nine, including Seoul.

The ruling party heaved a sigh of relief because it feared the worst amid strong public criticism of the government’s failed response to the Sewol ferry disaster.

Some fear this balance of power might fuel partisan fighting. But it appears to be seen whether the results can help or hurt President Park Geun-hye’s reform drive.

This could be made worse as rival parties swept their home turfs.

According to the National Election Commission (NEC), Thursday, the ruling party won mayoral races in Daegu, Busan, Incheon and Ulsan, while triumphing in gubernatorial elections in Gyeonggi, Jeju, North and South Gyeongsang provinces.

The NPAD clinched mayoral posts in Seoul, Daejeon, Gwangju and Sejong and governor ones in Gangwon, North and South Chungcheong, and North and South Jeolla provinces.

Despite declining approval ratings for the Park administration and the ruling party, they put on good performances in the capital area after defending the governorship of Gyeonggi Province and reclaimed the Incheon mayoral post. These two along with Seoul, are regarded as the litmus test of public sentiment because they are relatively free from the nation’s deep-rooted, regionally-biased voting patterns.

On the other hand, NPAD can comfort itself with the victorious Seoul mayoral race by Park Won-soon and the sweeping of central districts ― Daejeon, Sejong, and North and South Chungcheong provinces.

“The Park Geun-hye marketing strategy had an impact, and the hidden votes in the Saenuri Party‘s strongholds were manifested,” said Lee Taek-soo, the head of polling agency Realmeter. “On the other hand, the NPAD failed to properly take advantage of the Sewol disaster.”

The ruling party called on voters to save the President and give her another chance by supporting it so that she could effectively manage state affairs.

Cheong Wa Dae said that it accepted the results in a humble way.

“We believe that the results of the elections that carry significance in a time of national difficulty are the will of the people,” presidential spokesman Min Kyung-wook said in a briefing.

“We will humbly accept the will of the people reflected in every single vote and try our best to reconstruct the nation.”

The Saenuri Party expressed relief over the election results.

“I think this is a decent outcome considering the ferry disaster,” Yoon Sang-hyun, the party’s secretary general, told reporters.

Its floor leader Lee Wan-koo thanked the “sense of balance” of the people, saying: “We felt keenly the angry public sentiment once again and will keep it in mind in reforming the nation.”

Rep. Kim Han-gil, a co-chairman of the NPAD, said: “We believe the election results are an order for both the ruling and opposition parties to make a new Republic of Korea.”