Local election candidates of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy still pulled ahead of their Saenuri Party rivals in major regions over the weekend, even as voter sentiment for the ruling party improved.
The NPAD’s Seoul and Incheon mayoral candidates led their counterparts in various polls, while the Saenuri Party runner led in the race for Gyeonggi Province governor.
Saenuri candidates regained some of their losses after President Park’s national apology last Monday for the government’s bungled response to last month’s ferry disaster, according to a poll conducted last week by Gallup Korea and the local daily JoongAng Ilbo.
Ratings rebounded slightly for Nam Kyung-pil and Yoo Jeong-bok, the Saenuri candidates for Gyeonggi governor and Incheon mayor, respectively, although Yoo was still trailing NPAD candidate Song Young-gil by 6 percentage points, the same poll showed.
Yoo’s rise came despite his stint as the security and public administration minister until April 2, two weeks before the Sewol accident. The ministry has been under intense public criticism for its inept disaster management. Nam leads his NPAD competitor Kim Jin-pyo by 8 percentage points.
However, Park’s apology did not improve the Saenuri Party‘s support in Seoul, where its candidate Chung Mong-joon garnered only 34.4 percent approval to NPAD Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon’s 53.5 percent, according to the Gallup Korea poll.
Chung, a seven-time lawmaker and former presidential candidate, continued his tight campaign schedule on Sunday, stopping at Jamsil Stadium and a medical center. Chung’s ratings have continued to slide from the 47 percent high just before the Sewol accident.
NPAD candidate Park met hikers at Mount Dobongsan in northern Seoul on Sunday morning, with party cochairmen Reps. Kim Han-gil and Ahn Cheol-soo coming by to show support.
In other regions, the opposition had a comfortable hold in the Jeolla provinces while the ruling party led in the Gyeongsang and Jeju provinces. Parties were still battling over Gangwon Province and Busan with opinion polls showing mixed results.
President Park’s upcoming Cabinet reshuffle and voter turnout are cited as important variables that can affect the final outcome.
Korea’s local election results are considered a barometer of public sentiment for the ruling party and linked to the president’s approval ratings.
“What Prime Minister-nominee Ahn Dae-hee does will have some influence on the election results,” said Bae Jong-chan, senior analyst at Research and Research, an opinion pollster. “He symbolizes President Park’s efforts to show sincerity in her apologies.”
Park’s televised statement apparently helped her party, Bae said.
Government endorsement ratings rose to 48 percent from last week’s 46 percent, according to Gallup Korea.
Voter participation rates in the local elections will also affect the results, Bae added.
“How voters in their 40s cast their votes will be decisive.”
Younger voters in their 20s and 30s are usually supportive of the opposition while more senior citizens are favorable to the conservative Saenuri Party.
“For the opposition to dominate this election, they will need bigger support from younger voters than they enjoyed in 2010, and at least a 10 percentage point lead among voters in their 40s.” Bae was referring to the 2010 local elections when the ruling Grand National Party candidate Oh Se-hoon won in Seoul. The GNP is the forerunner of the current Saenuri Party.
By Jeong Hunny (email@example.com