|Suh Chung-won, the ruling Saenuri Party candidate for Gyeonggi Province’s Hwaseong-A constituency, holds up his arms after his victory is confirmed on Wednesday. Yonhap News|
The ruling Saenuri Party swept to victory in two by-elections Wednesday to embolden its position in an escalating dispute with the opposition over spy agencies’ alleged interference in last year’s presidential election.
The party’s candidates, Suh Chung-won and Park Myung-jae, won in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province, and Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province, respectively, both considered party strongholds.
Despite only two seats being at stake, the elections are seen as a key test of public sentiment toward the Park Geun-hye administration ahead of June’s local elections.
The Saenuri Party now holds 155 of the 300 seats in the National Assembly. The main opposition Democratic Party holds 127 seats, while the minor opposition Unified Progressive Party and the Progressive Justice Party respectively hold six and five seats. There are currently seven independent lawmakers.
Former party leader Suh defeated the DP’s Oh Il-yong, taking 63.7 percent of the vote as of 10 p.m. Wednesday for his seventh term in parliament. Oh received 28.3 percent of the vote, while the Unified Progressive Party’s Hong Sung-kyu took 8 percent.
Park Myung-jae, a former minister of public administration, took the Pohang Nam-gu-Ulleung-gun constituency by a much wider margin of 79.9 percent to the 17.5 percent of the DP’s Heo Dae-man.
The turnout for Wednesday’s by-elections was estimated at a relatively low 33.5 percent. In comparison, the April by-elections saw 41.3 percent of voters cast their ballots.
“I will strive to contribute to the stability and advancement of the Saenuri Party, which has given me a new chance. And, I will do my best to add my weight to the success of the Park Geun-hye administration,” Suh said in his victory speech. He added that the success of the Park administration was “Korea’s core task that goes beyond factions.”
Suh is a key member of the pro-Park Geun-hye faction of the party. He was central to the formation of the now defunct pro-Park Geun-hye Alliance, and the faction’s subsequent growth within the conservative bloc.
Although both the Gyeonggi and North Gyeongsang province constituencies have given their support to the conservatives in recent years, the DP had hoped for at least a close match to shore up its claims of protecting democracy.
“We humbly accept the results of the by-elections. The party will renew itself as a DP that wins by upholding the will of the public,” DP spokesman Rep. Kim Kwan-young said in a statement.
The constituency in Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province has been held by conservative lawmakers since it was created in the mid 1990s. Former President Lee Myung-bak’s elder brother Lee Sang-deuk held the constituency for four consecutive terms from 1996 to 2012.
The Hwaseong-A constituency was left vacant following the death of Saenuri Party lawmaker Ko Hee-sun in August. The Pohang constituency had been vacant since July when Kim Hyung-tae, formerly of the ruling party, lost his seat after being found guilty of illegal campaigning.
By Choi Hee-suk (firstname.lastname@example.org