The Korea Herald


Opposition wins by landslide

Yoon's party sees defeating crush; Cho Kuk emerges as dark horse

By Jung Min-kyung, Son Ji-hyoung

Published : April 10, 2024 - 21:39

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Democratic Party of Korea candidate Kim Dong-ah, center right, celebrates his victory at Seodaemun-A constituency in Seoul on late Wednesday. (Yonhap) Democratic Party of Korea candidate Kim Dong-ah, center right, celebrates his victory at Seodaemun-A constituency in Seoul on late Wednesday. (Yonhap)

South Korea’s liberal main opposition party and its allies clinched a sweeping victory in Wednesday’s general election, an outcome which is expected to further frustrate President Yoon Suk Yeol’s pursuit of key initiatives over his remaining three years in office.

With only six proportional representation seats left to be assigned, the Democratic Party of Korea and its satellite Minjoo Union Party had secured 172 seats in the single-chamber, 300-member National Assembly, according the National Election Commission as of 7 a.m. Thursday. The figure is slightly off the joint exit polls conducted by broadcasters KBS, MBC and SBS the previous day, which projected the two parties to secure between 178 and 197 seats.

The Democratic Party and its allies consolidated their status as the parliamentary majority for the next four years, after the liberal bloc won a total of 180 seats in the previous general election in 2020.

The ruling People Power Party and satellite People Future Party, had secured a total of 106 seats, as of the cited time.

Meanwhile, the Rebuilding Korea Party, launched by ex-Justice Minister Cho Kuk, an ally of the Democratic Party, had secure a larger-than-expected 11 seats through proportional representation, as of 7 a.m.

Voting officially kicked off at 6 a.m. for 12 hours at 14,259 polling stations across the nation. The three broadcasters conducted the exit polls with the participation of some 500,000 voters at 2,000 polling stations in their joint survey.

Around 67 percent of the total 44.28 million eligible voters across the country had cast their ballots by the end of the day Wednesday, the National Election Commission said in its tentative report. The provisional figure included the turnout for two days of early voting held last week.

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, the Democratic Party rejoiced as the exit polls predicted a near-absolute victory with potentially up to 200 seats. The Democratic Party's leader and former presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung said that he would observe the people's choice until the very end with a humble heart.

People Power Party candidate Na Kyung-won celebrates her victory at Dongjak-B constituency in Seoul on Wednesday. (Yonhap) People Power Party candidate Na Kyung-won celebrates her victory at Dongjak-B constituency in Seoul on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

Drawing a stark contrast, members of the People Power Party who gathered at another part of the Assembly were solemn, with some unable to contain their shock and grief.

Immediately following the release of the exit poll results, Han Dong-hoon, chairman of the People Power Party Emergency Response Committee, told reporters that "the party has strived to practice politics in alignment with the will of the people, yet the exit poll results have been a letdown.”

He added, “We will steadfastly monitor the people’s choice and keep an eye on the vote counting results until the very end,” before exiting the vote counting situation room set up in the Assembly.

The election was seen by many as a referendum on President Yoon, and observers say that with the Democratic Party and its allies likely to secure more than 151 seats, as forecast on the eve of the election, the Yoon administration and the conservative bloc would be unable to freely pursue their agenda over the next three years. This scenario would see a repeat of what has happened over the past two years, with the opposition-controlled Assembly passing multiple contentious bills and Yoon vetoing them, according to political commentators.

The worst-case scenario for Yoon was the main opposition, along with fellow opposition forces including the Rebuilding Korea Party, securing 200 seats or more. By securing two-thirds of the parliament, a coalition liberal bloc could launch an impeachment inquiry into the president.

“President Yoon is expected to become a lame duck on top of his first two years in office where he couldn’t do anything he wanted with bills and budgets,” Lee Jun-han, a professor of political science at Incheon National University, said in a Wednesday interview with YTN.

“All he could do was to veto (dozens of contentious bills passed by the opposition-led Assembly). If the People Power Party and its allies fail to secure at least 100 seats, then a huge hurdle awaits Yoon,” he added.

Wednesday’s election followed months of mudslinging and hostile discourse between the rival parties, which observers say has resulted in a deeply polarized political landscape. It also came amid Yoon’s plummeting popularity, as his approval rate had dropped by 18 percentage points from 52 percent in the second week of May 2022, when he first took office, to 34 percent in the fourth week of March this year, the latest Gallup Korea poll showed.

“The toxic rhetoric and mudslinging has been prominent in the weeks leading up to the election, (which) has been one of the harshest in (the country's) political history,” said Lee Nae-young, a political science professor at Korea University.

“It seems we were never really able to compare and assess the policy pledges tied to key issues such as national security and the low birth rate that the rival parties rolled out for the election,” he added.

Yoon’s key initiatives, including the administration's policies on boosting the birth rate and pursuing trilateral security cooperation with the US and Japan, are unlikely to muster momentum, the commentators explained.

In the recent months leading up to the election, Yoon and the ruling party have been weighed down by multiple risks stemming from growing public displeasure over soaring food prices, as well as over scandals tied to first lady Kim Keon Hee and former Ambassador to Australia Lee Jong-sup.