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Election defeat deals further blow to main opposition party

The main opposition Democratic Party will likely face increasing uncertainties from both within and outside the party as it attempts to recover from the crushing by-election defeats.

On Wednesday, Saenuri Party candidate Suh Chung-won received more than twice the number of votes of the DP’s Oh Il-yong in Gyeonggi Province’s Hwaseong-A constituency.

In Pohang, the gap was even larger with the ruling party’s Park Myung-jae taking more than 78 percent of the vote while the DP’s Huh Dae-man received only 18.5 percent.

The rout is expected to weaken the party’s position in an escalating dispute with the ruling party over alleged irregularities by state agencies during last year’s presidential election and could be a grim omen ahead of local elections scheduled for June next year.

The DP’s leaders are likely to face an internal challenge over their ineffective strategies. The party has been pressuring the government over the alleged interference by intelligence agencies in last year’s presidential election, but little has been achieved so far.

The strategy had not only failed to force President Park Geun-hye to address the issue, until Thursday but also backfired when the president refused all related demands outright, analysts say.

According to professor Yang Seung-ham of Yonsei University, the by-election defeat will damage Kim’s leadership to a certain degree despite his track record.

“(Kim) was proving his leadership by using a flexible hard-line stance within the parliament against the government, and (Kim) was on the rise buoyed by testimony from (former) chief of the prosecution’s special probe,” Yang said. Yoon Seok-yeol, former chief of the prosecution’s investigation into the National Intelligence Service’s alleged election meddling, testified during the parliamentary audit that there was pressure to conduct a politically biased probe.

He added that the DP lacked a proper plan in taking on the by-elections, saying that the main opposition should have fielded Sohn Hak-kyu or developed an alternative plan of similar efficacy. Sohn, however, refused to run for the constituency, saying that he felt responsible for the presidential election defeat.

“Pohang is different, but Hwaseong candidates were mismatched, and (Kim) will have to take responsibility for it.”

Voices blaming its leaders for failing to bring Sohn into the fray have already risen from within the party.

“Will the DP again apologize to the public having failed to see its downfall, failed to recognize the candidate (with the potential) to be and fail to break out of the current situation,” former DP floor leader Rep. Park Jie-won wrote on his Twitter account on Wednesday. Park is a third-term lawmaker with close ties to late President Kim Dae-jung.

Sohn, a DP senior advisor, is a veteran politician who was central to major power shifts within the progressive bloc.

He has also been linked on a number of occasions to independent Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo, who is said to be laying the foundations for a powerbase of his own, threatening to weaken the DP even further.

As uncertainties plague the main opposition, experts say that the DP needs a clear power structure.

“A conclusion must be reached, a conclusion between pro-Roh and Kim Han-gil. The pro-Roh faction is running wild, it needs to be controlled but at present there is no clear means (for Kim) to do this,” professor Shin Yul of Myongji University said.

Saying that voters in the Jeolla provinces have strong negative sentiments towards the pro-Roh faction, Shin added that the outcome of the power struggle will have a long-lasting impact for the DP.

“If the pro-Roh faction takes power, then Ahn Cheol-soo will make headway in Honam (Jeolla provinces) and if that happens there will be a restructuring of the progressive bloc.”

Pro-Roh faction refers to the hardliners with ties to late President Roh Moo-hyun. Although the faction’s leaders including Rep. Lee Hae-chan stepped back from the party’s daily affairs, pro-Roh’s are thought to have been the main force behind the DP’s hard-line stance on the NIS scandal and other issues.

By Choi He-suk (