[Ferry Disaster] Sewol could sway voter sentiment

By Korea Herald
  • Published : May 16, 2014 - 21:13
  • Updated : May 16, 2014 - 21:29
The government’s poor handling of the recent ferry disaster is expected to affect voter sentiment with the local elections less than three weeks away.

Observers raised the possibility that voters would use the elections to express their frustration over the flawed state response to the country’s worst maritime disaster in two decades, which left more than 300 people dead or missing.

Particularly, mothers in their 40s and 50s could vote against the candidates of the ruling Saenuri Party as they are angry over the death of hundreds of high-school students who were aboard the ill-fated ferry for a school trip.

Negative public opinion against the government and ruling party is also expected to affect voter turnout.

According to a recent survey conducted by local daily Hankyoreh, 84 percent of those questioned said they would definitely or very likely go to the polling stations. In particular, 35.2 percent of those polled said they were more willing to vote than before, while 21.1 percent said that they were less willing.

For the June 4 elections, undecided voters are seen as another major variable as some of the supporters for the ruling party have apparently withdrawn their backing due to the government’s clumsy handling of the maritime tragedy.

In a survey conducted late last month by the local pollster Embrain, 43.8 percent of those questioned identified themselves as swing voters.

Amid public outrage over the ferry disaster, approval ratings for the ruling party decreased by 5.4 percentage points to 38.1 percent, while the popularity for the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy increased by 1.7 percentage points to 25.6 percent.

Public support for President Park Geun-hye has also plunged. According to a Gallup Korea survey of Korean women in their 40s, support ratings for Park decreased to 42 percent on May 2, compared with 62 percent recorded on April 4 before the April 16 disaster.

To address such a negative sentiment, the ruling camp is trying to come up with effective social safety measures. President Park is preparing for a national address that is expected to include another apology for the disaster.

The opposition camp is seen preparing for the elections in a cautious manner as its offensive against the ruling camp over the issue of the ferry sinking could prove to be counterproductive. Analysts said that the opposition’s political attack on the ruling party could help strengthen unity among conservative voters.

Meanwhile, the two-day candidate registration period ended on Friday. The local elections are to pick 3,952 public office holders including governors, mayors, provincial legislators and educational superintendents across the nation.

By Song Sang-ho (