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Main opposition party's victory to change political landscape

Members of the main opposition People Power Party cheer at party headquarters on Yeouido, Seoul, Wednesday, as the exit poll for the Seoul mayoral by-election showed a likely victory for the party's candidate Oh Se-hoon, front row second from right. Korea Times photo by Choi Won-suk
Members of the main opposition People Power Party cheer at party headquarters on Yeouido, Seoul, Wednesday, as the exit poll for the Seoul mayoral by-election showed a likely victory for the party's candidate Oh Se-hoon, front row second from right. Korea Times photo by Choi Won-suk

Ruling party's defeat to accelerate lame-duck presidency for Moon

By Jung Da-min

The main opposition People Power Party's (PPP) victory against the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) in Wednesday's by-elections is expected to allow the former to take the lead in reorganizing the opposition and gain the upper hand in preparing for the presidential election next year.

In contrast, the DPK, which clinched a crushing victory in last year's April general election, is likely to lose its drive to push ahead with various reform policies and accelerate the lame-duck presidency for President Moon Jae-in.

The DPK had succeeded in winning a supermajority in last year's election with 180 National Assembly seats, or three fifths of the total.

Political watchers say the bye-election results will change the political landscape in the opposition's favor, with less than a year left ahead of the presidential poll.

The PPP's Seoul mayoral candidate Oh Se-hoon and Busan mayoral candidate Park Heong-joon won by a landslide in the by-elections against the DPK's candidates Park Young-sun and Kim Young-choon, respectively, according to the final official ballot count.

Experts say the results reflect public disappointment with the Moon administration, which has been aggravated by a housing scandal involving employees of the state-run developer Korea Land and Housing Corp. (LH), amid already high public anger over the government's failed real estate policies and soaring housing prices.

The LH scandal also spread into politics as some ruling bloc figures were also allegedly involved in improper real estate deals, eventually dragging down support for the President and the DPK. This is widely believed to have been a major variable in the by-elections.

Veteran political consultant Park Sung-min said the PPP's winning has changed the competitive landscape for the next presidential election.

"If the by-elections had not been held just a year after the DPK's landslide victory in the 21st general election in April last year, then they would not have been any particular game changer and many people would have believed that the DPK would also win in the next presidential election," Park said.

He said the DPK's victory in last year's general election came despite growing corruption allegations surrounding former Justice Minister Cho Kuk, and created a belief among supporters of the liberal ruling party that it would also win in the next presidential election even if support for President Moon dropped further. "But such an expectation of the ruling bloc has been broken by this year's by-elections."

Members of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea watch the results of the exit poll for the Seoul mayoral by-election, which showed its candidate Park Young-sun's likely defeat by rival candidate Oh Se-hoon of the main opposition People Power Party, at Park's election camp in central Seoul's Jongno District, Wednesday. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul
Members of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea watch the results of the exit poll for the Seoul mayoral by-election, which showed its candidate Park Young-sun's likely defeat by rival candidate Oh Se-hoon of the main opposition People Power Party, at Park's election camp in central Seoul's Jongno District, Wednesday. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

Lee Jong-hoon, a political commentator, said the DPK's defeat would accelerate Moon's lame-duck presidency, citing recent public opinion polls as already showing signs of it as the President's job approval rating has decreased to the 30 percent level.

"The lame-duck situation will be accelerated, and the ruling bloc can no longer take victory for granted in the next presidential election," Lee said.

He said the DPK should form an emergency committee instead of electing a new head.

"The ruling party should discuss how to deal with the crisis as the chances for the party to win the next presidential election have become unclear. When former Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl has been topping recent polls as a potential presidential candidate who could represent the opposition, the DPK would seriously consider whether to form an emergency committee instead of electing a new chief for a regular system under a new head," Lee said.

Park and Lee said that the DPK's by-elections campaign chief Lee Nak-yon, who had stepped down from the party's chairman post in early March to prepare for a presidential bid, will have lost ground to run in the next presidential election, as it was under his chairmanship that the party revised its own regulations last year to field candidates for the Seoul and Busan by-elections.

The by-elections took place following the suicide of former Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon in July and resignation of former Busan Mayor Oh Keo-don in April last year, each over sexual harassment allegations. Both Park and Oh were DPK members. Under the party's previous regulation, the DPK would have been unable to field candidates for by-elections that were triggered by its members resigning to take responsibility for own wrongdoing. But the DPK, under Lee, changed the regulation and fielded candidates for Seoul and Busan.

Jung Da-min damin.jung@koreatimes.co.kr


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