The June 4 local elections have ended in a tie between the two major parties. Neither the ruling Saenuri Party nor the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy has won an outright victory or suffered a major defeat.
The ruling party won eight of the 17 metropolitan mayoral and gubernatorial seats, one less than the current nine. But party officials expressed satisfaction with the outcome. They said the party had put up a good defense in the aftermath of the Sewol ferry fiasco.
Before the disaster took place on April 16, claiming more than 300 lives, the ruling party was expected to carry the local elections, as President Park Geun-hye’s approval ratings hovered above 60 percent.
But the disaster changed the landscape of the elections. The government agencies’ woeful response to the manmade disaster made the public angry and frustrated, turning the elections into a referendum on Park and her administration.
Put on the defensive, the ruling party sought to rally conservative voters behind Park. It pleaded with disaffected supporters to stay with her, warning that their withdrawal of support would make it difficult for her to carry out her reform plans.
The rallying cry has worked. Before the polls, the ruling party was expected to suffer a humiliating defeat. But its losses were minimal. Many conservative-oriented voters felt a sense of crisis and coalesced behind its candidates, helping the party hold its own.
The NPAD also has a reason to claim victory. It increased its share of the 17 metropolitan mayoral and provincial governor seats from the present eight to nine. Moreover it made a clean sweep in the Chungcheong region by winning in all of its four constituencies.
The outcome was much better than what it could hope for only two months ago. At the time, its approval ratings remained much lower than those of the ruling party. Furthermore it was torn apart over discord over candidate nominations.
The Sewol ferry debacle changed its fortune. It appealed to angry voters to judge the incompetence and irresponsibility of the incumbent government and the ruling party through the elections.
Given the fury of the public, the party was expected to win by a large margin. But the outcome fell short of its high expectations, reminding it of its narrow support base.
The electorate has made a wise decision. Voters have expressed their dissatisfaction with both parties. They have issued a warning to the ruling party by reducing its share of the 17 mayoral and gubernatorial seats.
But they have given it another chance to push forward with its reform plans. President Park and the ruling party should humbly accept the election results and renew their resolve to live up to the electorate’s expectations.
The NPAD should also take the election results as an indication of its failure to win the confidence of the public. Had the electorate been confident about its governing ability, it could have achieved a better outcome.
With the elections over, the nation now needs to go back to business as usual. Park should reshuffle the Cabinet in a way that promotes reconciliation and make sure that various reform projects are carried out as planned.
Corporations need to implement their investment plans that have been suspended following the Sewol ferry tragedy. Consumers are also advised to open their wallets to help the economy move forward.