President Moon's ruling party favored to score landslide victory in local elections

Park Sae-jin Reporter Posted : 2018-06-13 18:57 Updated : 2018-06-13 19:56
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[Yonhap Photo]

SEOUL -- The governing party of South Korean President Moon Jae-in is predicted to score a sweeping victory in local elections and parliamentary by-elections which were seen as a vote of confidence, a day after U.S. and North Korean leaders held their historic summit in Singapore, an exit poll showed.

Through the victory, Moon, a former human rights lawyer who took office in May last year with a reform platform, would gain momentum in his drive to step up reforms and an inter-Korean thaw that burgeoned after a historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in April.

It marked the first major elections since Moon, a liberal leader, was elected in May last year to succeed South Korea's jailed ex-president Park Geun-hye, who is still on trial for her role in a massive corruption scandal.

In parliamentary by-elections, Moon's Democratic Party (DP) is favored to take at least 10 out of 12 seats, while the conservative main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) is leading in two places, according to a joint exit poll conducted by three major TV stations. Currently, DP has 119 seats in the 299-member National Assembly while LKP controls 112 seats.

The exit poll showed the ruling camp took away 14 of 17 metropolitan mayoral and gubernatorial posts. Seoul mayor Park Won-soon, a strong supporter of Moon, was favored to beat two conservative heavyweights, Kim Moon-Soo of the LKP and Ahn Cheol-soo of the Bareunmirae Party. Park is seeking his third term in Seoul.

In Seoul's surrounding province, Gyeonggi, with a population of 12 million or 23 percent of the entire population, DP's Lee Jae-myung is expected to win against LKP candidate Nam Kyung-pil.

The ruling party held a comfortable lead in 226 local administrative chiefs, 17 educational heads and more than 3,700 local legislative councilors.

After the exit poll was released, LKP head Hong Jun-pyo posted an English message in his Facebook, reading "THE BUCK STOPS HERE", a phrase popularized by US president Harry Truman who kept a sign with that phrase on his desk in the Oval Office. The phrase refers to the notion that the President has to make the decisions and accept the ultimate responsibility for those decisions.

Voting began at 6:00 a.m. (2100 GMT) at 14,134 polling stations and balloting ended at 6 p.m. The National Election Commission, a state election watchdog, put the number of eligible voters at 42.9 million. Commission officials predicted rough final results would be available about one hour before midnight.

Some 20.14 percent of voters cast ballots last week in two days of early voting. The turnout rate for the previous local elections in 2014 was 56.8 percent, including 11.5 percent of voters who took part in early voting.

Before Wednesday's voting, an overriding topic has been a summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un who signed a peace agreement at their summit in Singapore.

The ruling party has been upbeat, saying the summit in Singapore would have a positive impact on undecided voters. But opposition candidates played down the significance of the agreement signed by Trump and Kim, arguing it did not contain North Korea's complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization.

Pre-election opinion polls showed that the ruling party is expected to score a comfortable victory as public support for the conservative opposition group has waned since Park was impeached and ousted.

In a survey published by Realmeter, a Seoul-based pollster, on May 14, Moon's approval rating stood at 76.3 percent. The ruling party's approval rating was 56.3 percent, compared with LKP's 17.7 percent, while splinter groups like the Bareunmirae Party were far behind at less than ten percent.