|Supreme Council members of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea bow to apologize for the party's crushing defeat in Wednesday's Seoul and Busan mayoral by-elections, at the National Assembly, Seoul, Thursday. All eight members resigned to take responsibility for the election result. Yonhap|
By Kim Rahn
The leadership of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) stepped down Thursday to take responsibility for the party's crushing defeat by the main opposition People Power Party (PPP) in Wednesday's Seoul and Busan mayoral by-elections.
The election loss virtually meant the downfall of the supermajority ruling party which controls 174 seats in the 300-strong National Assembly. The election results also showed how the public had grown weary of the ruling bloc's policies, making it impossible to railroad controversial bills as it had previously done until now.
The by-elections were largely regarded as an indicator for the next presidential election slated for March 2022 and it will be inevitable for the ruling party to undertake major reforms to regain its appeal to the public before the presidential race.
DPK floor leader Rep. Kim Tae-nyeon, who has been the acting head of the party, said all eight Supreme Council members, including himself, decided to step down.
The eight officials were originally set to remain in their posts until August next year.
"We are resigning to take responsibility for the by-election results," Kim said in a statement after a party meeting.
He said the party would form an emergency committee led by Rep. Do Jong-hwan until it selects a new floor leader, April 16. The DPK will also hold a party convention, May 2, to select a new chief.
"New heads will lead innovation to meet the public's demands," Kim said. "Through the by-elections, the people have presented a lot of tasks for the DKP. We'll review them thoroughly and reform the party."
Kim also said the party members will raise the ethical bar for fairness and justice, an apparent response to criticism that the ruling bloc has applied "double standards" and has been lenient in addressing corruption allegations involving ruling party figures.
Despite the pledges for reform, it remains unclear if the party will be able to salvage itself and prepare for the election by offering appealing pledges.
In addition, its potential presidential candidates have yet to gain noticeable traction and the situation is likely to become worse due to the by-election results.
Rep. Lee Nak-yon, former head of the party and chief of the by-election campaign committee, was once considered as the strongest presidential contender. It was also under Lee's leadership that the DPK revised its own regulations to field candidates for the by-elections in Seoul and Busan, where the mayoral posts had been vacated after former Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon killed himself and former Busan Mayor Oh Keo-don resigned following sexual harassment allegations raised against them. Both were DPK members.
Some party members apparently claim that it would be ethically wrong for Lee to run in the presidential election as he is the one who should take the most responsibility for the by-election defeat.
|Kim Chong-in, center, the interim head of the main opposition People Power Party, gets applause as he enters a party meeting at the National Assembly in Seoul, Thursday, a day after the party won a landslide victory in the Seoul and Busan mayoral by-elections. Yonhap|
The main opposition PPP, on the other hand, is seeing its chance of winning the presidential election increase largely as the by-election results showed negative public sentiment toward the ruling bloc.
But its leadership was cautious, saying the people voted for the PPP not because it showed a good performance but because the DPK and the Moon Jae-in administration were managing the state so poorly.
"We are advised not to be intoxicated with victory, but to be humble and to try harder," PPP floor leader Rep. Joo Ho-young said in a party meeting, Thursday. "People do not like a party that only focuses on winning a presidential election."
Kim Chong-in, the head of the PPP's emergency committee, also gave similar advice. Kim, who had taken the interim leader position after the party's crushing defeat in the general election in April last year, resigned from the position and left the party, Thursday, as he promised to do so after achieving the opposition party's victory in the by-elections.
He said although the PPP has tried for reform, there is still a way to go, adding some members caused internal feuds in their pursuit of leadership. "Such feuds have made the people frown," he said in a press briefing at the National Assembly. "If the PPP does not accept the by-election results humbly and slows down its reform drive, the party will again face severe internal discord and the hard-won chance to change the administration will vanish."