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S. Korea's Yoon buoyed by local polls

By YANG HAN in Hong Kong | China Daily | Updated: 2022-06-03 08:06

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. [Photo/Agencies]

Despite a sweeping victory for the ruling party of South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol in local elections on Wednesday, the new leader will face challenges in pushing forward the government's agenda, experts say.

"The strength of the win in the local elections will make it easier for the Yoon administration in the near future," said Yang Jun-sok, an economics professor at The Catholic University of Korea. "But I believe that the advantage to the Yoon administration will be temporary."

At best, the administration has secured a few months of goodwill, but how it fares after that will depend on the reception its policy initiatives receive and on the performance of the economy, Yang told China Daily.

Opposition parties will seize on any chance to oppose or slow down policy initiatives that do not have strong support from the public, he added.

The voting on Wednesday covered local governments and parliamentary by-elections.

The ruling People Power Party, or PPP, won 12 out of 17 key races for big-city mayors and provincial governors, including Seoul, the neighboring port city of Incheon and the southeastern port city of Busan. The main opposition Democratic Party, or DP, won five key races, including in the provinces of Gyeonggi and Jeolla.

About 22.5 million people out of the 44.3 eligible voters cast their ballots before voting closed on Wednesday night, according to the National Election Commission.

Despite a 20.62 percent turnout for early voting, the highest for local elections, the final turnout for this year's local elections was tallied at 50.9 percent. It was the lowest turnout for local polls since 2002 and fell far short of the 60.2 percent recorded for the local elections in 2018, when the ruling DP won 14 of the 17 posts in the key races.

The final turnout for the parliamentary by-elections is estimated at 55.6 percent, according to the election watchdog. The PPP won five out of seven legislative seats.

Lim Eun-jung, associate professor of international studies at Kongju National University in Chungnam Province, said the turnout was "a little unexpected". Voter fatigue may have played a part, with the presidential elections only three months before, Lim said.

The local elections fell less than a month after Yoon took office on May 10. He won the March presidential election against Lee Jaemyung of the DP by an unprecedentedly tight margin of just 0.7 percent.

On Wednesday, Lee was elected to the National Assembly for the first time in a by-election in Incheon. Ahn Cheol-soo, another recent presidential candidate, of the PPP, also won a seat in parliament.

While the ruling party now takes the majority of seats at the local level, Lim said the Yoon administration will still face challenges as the DP retains a majority in the National Assembly.

"It's a kind of mixed results …it's a good thing for the current administration but it does not necessarily guarantee everything is going to be successful," she said.

Yoon's spokeswoman Kang In-sun said on Thursday that he takes the result of the local elections as a call from the people to revive the economy and improve people's livelihoods.

"The most urgent task is to revive economic vitality," she quoted Yoon as saying, adding that his administration will work with the local governments to address the challenges.

On Thursday, DP leaders quit the party's interim leadership committee en masse following the election defeat.

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