Voters did not hold the ruling party accountable for the government performance but sanctioned opposition parties in Wednesday’s local elections.
The Democratic Party of Korea scored a landslide victory, while opposition parties suffered humiliating losses.
Polls predicted the triumph prior to the elections, but the lead was wider than anticipated.
The Democratic Party won 14 of 17 metropolitan mayoral and gubernatorial posts, while the main opposition Liberty Korea Party secured just two seats. One went to an independent, for Jeju Island.
In parliamentary by-elections, held simultaneously with local elections for the first time, the Democratic Party won 11 of 12 seats at stake and the Liberty Korea Party one.
Opposition parties portrayed the first nationwide elections held about a year after the launch of the Moon Jae-in administration as a midterm test to hold the ruling camp accountable for its performance, but voters did not buy it.
Actually, voters were more distracted by the US-North Korea and South Korea-North Korea summits than election campaigns. Generally, they took a positive view of the Moon government’s fight against the corruption of past conservative governments.
Even in this situation, the opposition camp was divided and their candidates fought one another as fiercely as the ruling party rivals, tipping the already lopsided race further in favor of the Democratic Party.
The most recent polls exposed electioneering problems again, as in the past.
Although local elections have more hands-on influence on voters’ daily life than general elections as they elect regional administrators and education superintendents, campaign promises and morality vetting were upstaged by slanderous revelations and controversial remarks.
The Gyeonggi Province gubernatorial race, among others, drew interest for an alleged scandal involving the ruling party candidate and an actress.
Outside mayoral and governor elections, most voters knew little about candidates for district councilors and education superintendents.
The June 13 local elections offer both lessons and tasks to the ruling and opposition parties alike.
The urgent task for the Liberty Korea Party is to seek a new conservative vision and overcome defeatism. The party tasted the bitterness of defeat again after the 2016 general elections and 2017 presidential election.
Before the impeachment, the party had pivotal leaders to rally conservatives, but since, with many turning their back to the party, its leadership has lost its central force.
The Liberty Korea Party failed to escape the stereotype of a campaign strategy focusing on national security, which it has resorted to each election. In this election, however, it worked no wonders.
Even as the situation on the Korean Peninsula has changed rapidly, its views remained little changed.
The party, stuck in the days of the Cold War, gave the impression it was an anti-peace force supporting confrontation.
Belatedly, it adjusted its attitude toward the US-North Korea summit from condemnation to caution, but it was too late.
Being biased much to security, the party failed to make the most of weak spots in the economic policy of the Moon administration, such as side effects of the sharply raised minimum wage sky-high youth unemployment.
The party has tried to innovate the conservatism it champions, but its efforts did not go beyond slogans.
The crisis facing the Liberty Korea Party stems from its reinforcement of conservative tone without thorough self-reflection and desperate innovation.
Its future cannot be assured unless it should update its conservativism and revamp its organization and policies completely.
Moon and the Democratic Party came to get a tighter grip on domestic politics and secured strong momentum in an ongoing reform drive and North Korea policy.
Despite its overwhelming win, however, the Democratic Party is not in a position where it can look on and do little about its own problems.
Moral issues will likely dog some of its successful candidates and can be burdensome to the party and the government. Voters are well aware of problems brought about by controversial economic policies.
If the party gets lazy in listening to voters and becomes conceited, it will see the tides turn.