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Conservative opposition revs up after by-elections

The results of Wednesday’s by-elections have sent ripples through the political arena, with the ruling and opposition parties taking contrasting positions.

The parliamentary by-elections in South Gyeongsang Province saw main opposition Liberty Korea Party’s Jeong Jeom-sig take the Goseong constituency of Tongyeong, in a landslide win. Yeo Young-guk of the Justice Party took the Changwon-Seongsan constituency. 

Liberty Korea Party Chairman Hwang Kyo-ahn speaks at the party`s supreme council meeting on Thursday. Yonhap
Liberty Korea Party Chairman Hwang Kyo-ahn speaks at the party`s supreme council meeting on Thursday. Yonhap

On Thursday, the Liberty Korea Party celebrated the results, describing it as “judgment by the people” on the Moon Jae-in administration. It also hinted at stepping up efforts to resist government policies.

“The people have passed a stern judgment on the Moon Jae-in administration, and at the same time gave the Liberty Korea Party a heavy task,” Liberty Korea Party Chairman Hwang Kyo-ahn said Thursday. Citing the close race in Seongsan-gu, Hwang said the results show that the public wants to see “wrong policies” of the administration set right.

“The ruling party failing to produce any winners in five elections shows the state of the administration. It is the people’s command to address the self-righteousness and arrogance of the current administration.”

In addition to the two new National Assembly members, three new members of local assemblies -- two from the Liberty Korea Party and one from the minor opposition Party for Democracy and Peace -- were elected into office Wednesday.

Rep. Cho Kyoung-tae, a member of the party’s supreme council, went a step further, saying that the results of the by-election for the Changwon-Seongsan constituency were effectively a win for the party, citing the closeness of the race.

Although the constituency is traditionally a progressive stronghold, with strong ties to the labor movement, Wednesday’s race was unexpectedly close, with the winner taking the seat by a 0.54 percentage point difference in votes.

While the by-elections have little impact in terms of the number of seats held by various parties, the elections have been interpreted by some as a barometer of voter sentiment ahead of next year’s general elections.

The ruling Democratic Party’s seats in the National Assembly remain unchanged at 128, while the Liberty Korea Party’s seats have increased by one to 114. With six seats, the Justice Party can form a negotiating bloc with the minor Party for Democracy and Peace, as they will have 20 seats combined.

With the by-elections seen as a taste of what is to come in next year’s general elections, the results have come as a major blow to the Democratic Party. Although the Goseong constituency is a conservative stronghold, and a Liberty Korea Party victory was widely expected, Wednesday’s results are in stark contrast to last year’s local elections, when the posts of Tongyeong and Goseong mayors were won by Democratic Party candidates.

For the Justice Party, reclaiming the Changwon-Seongsan constituency doubles its lawmakers with constituencies. Of the current six Justice Party lawmakers, four are proportional representatives. Former party leader Rep. Sim Sang-jeung has been the only one with a constituency since the death of Roh Hoe-chan last year.

Roh, who held the Seongsan-gu constituency, took his own life amid allegations of receiving illegal political funding.

While the progressive bloc managed to maintain its hold on Seongsan-gu, the victory was only obtained due to the division of conservative votes.

The Justice Party’s Yeo Young-guk, the winner, had trailed behind the Liberty Korea Party’s Kang Ki-youn until the very end, and took the seat with 42,663 votes to Kang’s 42,159 votes.

With the gap between the winner and the runner-up standing at 504, pundits say it is likely that the 838 votes taken by the Patriotic Party of Korea candidate was crucial to the outcome.

The Patriotic Party of Korea is an ultraright-wing party with one parliamentary seat held by its leader Cho Won-jin, a staunch supporter of ousted President Park Geun-hye.

By Choi He-suk (