S. Korea's ruling party routed in mayoral by-elections over economic slump

2021-04-08 07:06:07 GMT2021-04-08 15:06:07(Beijing Time) Xinhua English

by Yoo Seungki

SEOUL, April 8 (Xinhua) -- South Korea's ruling Democratic Party was routed by the conservative bloc in by-elections of the country's two biggest cities amid growing public anger over the government's lack of proper response to an economic slump caused by the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic.

Oh Se-hoon of the main conservative opposition People Power Party won a landslide victory over Park Young-sun of the Democratic Party 57.50 percent to 39.18 percent in the mayoral by-election of the capital Seoul, the National Election Commission said Thursday.

In the by-election of the second-biggest city of Busan, Park Heong-joon of the People Power Party harshly defeated Kim Young-choon of the Democratic Party by a wider margin of 62.67 percent to 34.42 percent.

Kim Chong-in, chief of the People Power Party, said people "exploded in anger" over the government of President Moon Jae-in who took office in May 2017 following the impeachment of his conservative predecessor Park Geun-hye.

Park is currently in prison over corruption scandal, and her conservative predecessor Lee Myung-bak is also behind bars on conviction of corruption charges.

The Democratic Party had won key nationwide elections for the past five years, including general elections in 2016 and 2020, local elections in 2018 and the presidential election in 2017.

In the latest nationwide election last year, the ruling bloc won almost three-fifths of the 300 seats in the unicameral National Assembly as people exalted the Moon government for its fast and definite response to the pandemic and the economic turmoil.

The government rapidly reacted to the economic downturn last year by offering relief grants to all households that were required to be spent in three months on local mom-and-pop stores and small merchants. It greatly contributed to the revenue recovery among microbusiness owners.

One year later, it reversed course as the government selectively gave relief checks this year to struggling merchants who still had to worry about the lackluster revenue and the high rent later on. The relief checks were offered about 10 days before the by-elections as it took time to select the eligible recipients.

The country's third wave of the pandemic began in the middle of November last year. In the latest tally, South Korea reported 700 more cases of COVID-19 for the past 24 hours, marking the highest daily caseload in 91 days.

The land speculation scandal surrounding officials at the Korea Land and Housing Corp., the state developer, dealt a heavy blow to the ruling bloc, overshadowing the allegations of property speculation over conservative candidates.

The moral standing of the Democratic Party was weakened as the former mayors of Seoul and Busan, both members of the governing party, committed suicide or stepped down on allegations of sexual harassment.

President Moon said in a statement that he took the election result as a "reprimand" from people, vowing to assume his duties in a humbler manner and with a heavier sense of responsibility, according to the presidential Blue House.

The president noted that he will make all-out efforts to overcome the pandemic, reinvigorate the economy, stabilize people's livelihoods and wipe out corruption in the real estate market. Enditem