|Election staffers count ballots for the Seoul mayoral by-election at Gyeonggi Commercial High School in Jongno District, Seoul, Wednesday. Korea Times photo by Choi Won-suk|
By Nam Hyun-woo
The high voter turnout in the mayoral by-elections for Seoul and Busan seems to have favored the main opposition People Power Party (PPP), which has been saying the election should be considered "a judgment" on the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) and the Moon Jae-in administration.
According to the National Election Commission, Wednesday, the interim turnout for the election stood at 55.5 percent. In Seoul, 58.2 percent of eligible residents cast their ballots, while the turnout for Busan reached 52.7 percent.
The overall turnout was lower than the 66.2 percent turnout in last year's general election and the 60.2 percent in the 2018 local elections.
Compared to previous by-elections, however, Wednesday's turnout was 4.3 percentage points higher than the 51.2 percent for a 2019 lawmaker by-election, and 1.6 percentage points higher than the 53.9 percent for a 2017 lawmaker by-election. The record-highest turnout for by-elections was 61.4 percent in 2014 to pick municipal council members in North Gyeongsang Province.
Given the election took place on a weekday and was a by-election to fill in the vacancies of mayors for Seoul and Busan, the turnout appears to be high, according to pundits.
As both exit polls and the tally showed ― with the PPP's Oh Se-hoon and Park Heong-joon leading in the Seoul and Busan races, respectively ― the PPP's tactic of encouraging people to exercise their right to punish the Moon administration's apparent failure to control Seoul and Busan's housing prices seems to have worked.
During the campaign, both the PPP and DPK had been each claiming a higher turnout would be in their favor. The PPP claimed a higher turnout represents the public's uproar against the ruling party and Moon, while the DPK interpreted that it would mean its core supporters cast ballots.
The opposition party said the public expressed its anger with the Moon administration and the DPK.
"When the turnout breaking above 50 percent, the ballots from core supporters become inadequate," an official at the PPP said. "Especially the high turnouts in southern districts of Seoul show the public outrage on Moon government's policies." Southern districts such as Gangnam and Seocho have been home turf for conservative parties.