South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s Democratic Party appears to have won 14 out of 17 mayoral and gubernatorial posts plus 10 out of 12 parliamentary seats in Wednesday’s elections, based on exit polling.
The sweeping victory left only two regional administrative posts and one parliamentary seat for the major opposition party, the Liberty Party of Korea, and its sole parliamentary victory was not certain as of Wednesday morning.
Turnout was unusually strong, notching the highest participation rate in local elections since 1995. A little over four thousand lesser administrative and legislative posts were on the ballot in addition to the topline races. Local elections and parliamentary by-elections are not normally held at the same time in South Korea.
The Straits Times viewed the anticipated victory for the Democratic Party as a vote of confidence in President Moon’s diplomacy with North Korea and a positive response to the Singapore summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
The LKP was hoping that “shy conservative” voters would “come out after keeping a low profile on political issues” following the impeachment of former president Park Geun-hye, but those hopes appear to have been dashed.
The Washington Post speculated that hawkish South Koreans might have been goosed to the polls by anxiety over President Trump’s announcement that U.S.-South Korean military drills would be suspended as part of the peacemaking process, concern that North Korea will be given a pass for its horrifying human rights record, and fears that reunification with the impoverished North could become a huge expense for South Korea’s government.
None of those factors seem to have been potent enough to overcome the wave of approval for Moon following his own summit with Kim. An exit poll roundup by KBS World Radio found that some of the Democratic Party victories were narrow, but candidates such as incumbent Seoul mayor Park Won-soon won by “wide margins.”
“In the Gyeonggi Province gubernatorial race, the DP’s Lee Jae-myung is also certain to defeat the LKP’s contender Nam Kyung-pil, despite a controversy over an allegation of his extramarital affairs with an actress,” the report noted.