S. Korea’s ruling party cements presidential win with local vote success

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South Korea’s new President Yoon Suk Yeol speaks during the 20th Presidential inaugural reception at the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea May 10, 2022. Lee Jin-man/Pool via REUTERS

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol’s ruling party emerged victorious in local elections, vote counts showed on Thursday, giving a boost to him and his plan to steer the economy into recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tens of millions of South Koreans went to the polls on Wednesday to elect 17 metropolitan and provincial chiefs, as well as seven members of the national assembly, according to Reuters.

Yoon’s People Power Party (PPP) cemented its power in important regions in what was seen as an early test of the president who took office last month after winning a March election by a margin of just 0.7%. read more

One bright spot for the Democrats was the most populous province of Gyeonggi, where former finance minister Kim Dong-yeon eked out a narrow win over Yoon’s former spokeswoman, Kim Eun-hye.

Former presidential candidates, Lee Jae-myung from the Democratic Party and Ahn Cheol-soo, now from the People Power Party, both won seats in parliament.

“We take the election results as a call from our people to revive the economy and to better take care of their livelihoods,” Yoon said in a statement.

Ruling party incumbents defeated challengers for the posts of mayor of South Korea’s two biggest cities, the capital Seoul and port city of Busan.

PPP candidates also won five of the seven parliamentary seats up for grabs, representing a gain for it of one seat in the opposition-controlled assembly.

Stakes were high for Yoon as he seeks to stabilise runaway housing prices, boost provincial economies and expedite recovery from the pandemic with a 300-member parliament dominated by the now opposition Democratic Party.

The liberal Democratic Party has seen its popularity wane in recent years amid disappointment with what many voters saw as a lacklustre economic policy and hypocrisy over political and sex abuse scandals. 

Park Ji-hyun, the Democratic Party’s interim co-leader, acknowledged “complete defeat” after her party “totally failed” to earn the people’s support.

“We humbly accept the people’s second judgment,” she wrote on Twitter, apparently referring to the March presidential election. “We will start anew as a new and young Democratic Party.”

The leadership of the Democratic Party, including Park, offered to resign en masse to take responsibility for the defeat.

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