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Ruling party sweeps local elections

Democratic Party of Korea leader Choo Mi-ae and other officials celebrate after exit poll showed their overwhelming victory in local elections at the National Assembly, Wednesday. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

Democratic Party of Korea wins 11 out of 12 Assembly seats

By Choi Ha-young

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The ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) has swept Wednesday's local elections as well as by-elections for 12 empty National Assembly seats.

The vote count by Thursday morning confirmed the ruling party's landslide victory. The DPK clinched 14 out of 17 governor and mayoral posts. The largest conservative Liberty Korea Party (LKP) managed to win in the mayoral and governor elections in Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province ― its traditional strongholds. Independent candidate Won Hee-ryong won the Jeju governor's post.

The DPK overwhelmingly won in southeast regions including South Gyeongsang Province, Ulsan and Busan. The party had never won elections in these regions before. The outcome means the liberal party successfully overcame deep-rooted hostilities in these areas, largely thanks to the high popularity of President Moon Jae-in.

Former DPK lawmaker Kim Kyoung-soo won the South Gyeongsang gubernatorial election, with over 50-percent support ― the first time for a liberal candidate. In the early counting, Kim Tae-ho of the LKP led by 5.5 percentage points.

Oh Geo-don of the DPK won in Busan, while Song Cheol-ho was the winner in the Ulsan mayoral election, according to exit polls.

Incumbent Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon became the first-ever three-term Seoul mayor by gaining 55.9 percent. Park's support rate was far ahead of rival conservative candidates ― Kim Moon-soo of the LKP and Ahn Cheol-soo of the Bareunmirae Party.

The main opposition Liberty Korea Party leader Hong Joon-pyo leaves campaign headquarters after his party's defeat in the June 13 local elections was made clear. Yonhap

The DPK also won 11 out of 12 by-elections. As a result, the number of the ruling party's seats increased to 129 in the 300-member National Assembly. The result reveals widespread antipathy toward the LKP, which kept boycotting legislative affairs to protest the ruling camp's policies.

The by-elections widened the gap between the DPK and the LKP, since the latter is likely to add only one seat to make 113 in total. The LKP only won in Gimcheon, North Gyeongsang Province ― a traditionally conservative district.

DPK Chairwoman Choo Mi-ae judged the outcome as encouragement for the Moon administration. "The party is grateful for such great support to boost our efforts in pioneering the way for peace," she said in a televised interview.

"The party views the voters have lauded the ruling camp's bid to put an end to the Cold War and pave the way toward peace and prosperity. The outcome of the exit polls was detected from the early stages of the elections."

The DPK touted the slogan "Peace and Economy" in line with Moon's efforts for inter-Korean rapprochement. The party's strategy worked in Gangwon Province, which shares a border with North Korea. The DPK's Gangwon governor candidate Choi Moon-soon won re-election.

The popularity of the DPK was also dominant in the proportional representation system in votes to form local councils. In a vote for city councilors, it received support of 53.8 percent, equivalent to 53 councilors, according to the poll conducted by Realmeter.

The LKP, which received 18.7 percent, is expected to get 18 seats. Unexpectedly, the Justice Party finished in third place with 9.7 percent, ahead of the third-largest Bareunmirae Party with 6.1 percent and fourth-largest Party for Democracy and Peace with 3.7 percent.

Lee Jae-myung, the ruling Democratic Party of Korea's governor candidate for Gyeonggi province, celebrates after his victory was made clear. Yonhap

The result was similar in the votes to form district councils. The DPK garnered 53.9 percent, followed by the LKP with 19.3 percent, the Justice Party with 8.4 percent, Bareunmirae Party with 6.3 percent and the Party for Democracy and Peace (PDP) with 2.7 percent.

The bitter defeat of the conservatives is expected to give a serious blow to parties and candidates. Ahn, who came in third place in the Seoul mayoral race, could lose the initiative in any possible political realignment, specifically the merger of the two conservative parties.

They have eyed integration to counter the growing influence of the ruling party. In an attempt to grasp the strongest position in the envisioned merger, Ahn and Kim Moon-soo exchanged barbs, calling on each other to drop out of the race.

LKP Chairman Hong Joon-pyo's leadership is also at stake. The outspoken party leader is expected to resign from the post as early as today, taking responsibility for a crushing defeat in the elections.

"The buck stops here," Hong posted on Facebook, indicating his possible resignation. Party floor leader Kim Sung-tae said the result was "heartbreaking."

Sohn Hak-kyu, who led the Bareunmirae Party's election campaign, expressed regret for the result. "The outcome will let us look back over our past path as a centrist party," Sohn said. "The recent political landscape has been disadvantageous for us, making it difficult to highlight our role."

The PDP was also disappointed by the result. The party had eyed posts primarily in Gwangju and the Jeolla provinces, but the DPK swept these areas.

The minor progressive Justice Party, which got better-than-expected results, was upbeat. "The election was a judgment on the LKP," said Chairwoman Lee Jeong-mi.

In total, 60.1 percent of South Koreans took part in the elections. The turnout exceeded that of 2014 which stood at 56.8 percent. This is the first time since 1995 that the local election turnout was over 60 percent.