South Korea’s ruling, left-wing Democratic Party (DP) suffered a “crushing” defeat on Wednesday in two mayoral by-elections viewed by political observers as a bellwether for the country’s presidential election next year.
“Oh Se-hoon of the main [right-wing] opposition People Power Party (PPP) defeated his rival from the DP, Park Young-sun, 57.5 percent to 39 percent to claim the Seoul mayoral seat,” according to a final vote tally released by South Korea’s National Election Commission on April 8. “The mayoral seat in Busan, the country’s second-largest city, also went to the PPP, with Park Heong-joon beating DP rival Kim Young-choon 63 percent to 34 percent.”
“The PPP also swept 13 of 19 other local posts up for grabs in the elections,” South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported.
Seoul is home to 10 million people, nearly one-fifth of South Korea’s total population of 52 million, meaning the city’s mayoral elections often serve as a strong indicator for the direction the country’s presidential election may take. South Korea’s next presidential poll is slated for March 2022.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his leftist ruling party “have been grappling with public outrage and falling support over spiking housing prices and a scandal involving public housing development officials, which erupted a month before Election Day [April 7],” Yonhap noted Thursday. “The DP’s recent railroading of progressive bills, including those on weakening the power of the state prosecution service, has also drawn heat.”
Seoul and Busan called for Wednesday’s mayoral by-elections after the previous mayors of both cities – Park Won-soon in Seoul and Oh Keo-don in Busan, both members of the DP – vacated their posts in 2020 amid sexual harassment allegations. Oh resigned from his post, and Park was found dead of an apparent suicide.
“Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, a leading figure in the Democratic Party and considered a potential presidential contender for 2022, died by suicide in July as sexual abuse allegations by his former secretary went public,” UPI recalled on Thursday. “Busan Mayor Oh Keo-don, also a member of the Democratic Party, resigned last April after admitting to sexual assault of a public servant during a meeting in his office.”
The PPP-member mayors elected in Seoul and Busan this week will serve out the remaining 14 months of the previous mayors’ four-year terms.
President Moon said Thursday he had taken his ruling party’s defeat on Wednesday as a “reprimand” from the public. Moon vowed to carry out his presidential duties with a “humbler demeanor and heavier sense of responsibility,” in a statement released by his spokesman. The DP’s top leaders resigned en masse Thursday to “take responsibility” for the party’s resounding loss. “Taking responsibility for the results of the elections, all (members of) the DP leadership are stepping down,” Rep. Kim Tae-nyeon, the Democratic Party’s acting chairman and floor leader, told reporters at a press conference on April 8.