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Campaigning starts for local elections with polls putting ruling party in lead

Outcome likely to reflect sentiment on Yoon administration

Banners of candidates running in the local elections are hung by a street in Jongno-gu, central Seoul, on Thursday. (Yonhap)
Banners of candidates running in the local elections are hung by a street in Jongno-gu, central Seoul, on Thursday. (Yonhap)
The official campaigning period has kicked off for the upcoming local elections in South Korea, with the ruling People Power Party appearing to be at an advantage over the larger opposition Democratic Party of Korea.

Many opinion surveys expect the People Power Party to prevail in the elections, with many experts saying that the political party that wins the presidential election is likely to extend the winning streak into the local elections.

For the time being, the People Power Party is showing a strong lead in 10 out of 17 metropolitan mayoral and gubernatorial elections, and the Democratic Party is leading in 6 of the 17 posts.

A close race is ongoing for the Gyeonggi Province gubernatorial election, where Kim Eun-hye of the People Power Party is battling against Kim Dong-yeon of the Democratic Party. The latest survey results showed Kim Eun-hye marginally in the lead. Whether that lead can be maintained remains largely uncertain.

The upcoming elections are also providing a stage for political heavyweights of South Korea to return to the main stage and stay out of the shadows.

Song Young-gil, former chief of the Democratic Party, is looking to challenge incumbent mayor Oh Se-hoon’s wish to extend his term as the mayor of South Korea’s capital. Song was largely out of the spotlight after the presidential election but has returned to fight in the local elections.

Ahn Cheol-soo, former chief of the presidential transition committee for Yoon who also ran in the presidential election in March, is running for a parliamentary election for a constituency in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province. He has been showing a clear lead according to recent surveys.

Over all, 7,616 candidates have registered to run for posts in 2,324 electoral districts on June 1. The official campaigning period ends on May 31, a day before the election takes place for voters to head to nearby polls.

Candidates are running for 17 metropolitan mayoral and gubernatorial posts, as well as 226 chief posts of lower-level administrative units. The election will also decide who will take the 779 seats available in provincial and municipal councils on top of 2,602 lower-level local councils.

Parliamentary by-elections for seven legislative posts will also take place on the sidelines of the local elections, with some heavyweights joining the race and vying to enter central politics.

The June 1 elections take place just 22 days after President Yoon Suk-yeol’s inauguration, meaning public sentiment towards the Yoon administration will be directly reflected on the ballot.

The ruling People Power Party started its campaign at Cheonan, South Chungcheong Province, where its chief Lee Jun-seok promised to deliver the most successful local elections result the conservative bloc has ever seen.

The last local election ended in a landslide victory for the Democratic Party, with the liberal party grabbing 14 of the 17 metropolitan mayoral and gubernatorial posts. It also swept 11 out of 12 legislative seats up for grabs in the parliamentary by-elections held on the sidelines.

The party is aiming to win at least 10 out of 17 metropolitan mayoral and gubernatorial posts. It is keen on extending the winning streak after successfully finishing the presidential election in March and mayoral by-elections last year.

The People Power Party chose South Chungcheong Province to kick off its central campaign to rally support for Kim Tae-heum, the party’s flagbearer for the province’s gubernatorial election.

The province is one of the so-called “swing states” in this election, and Kim has been falling behind his rival from the main opposition Democratic Party in opinion surveys. Lee was scheduled to continue the rally by visiting Incheon and Seoul.

The Democratic Party started its campaign in Incheon with Lee Jae-myung, chief of the party’s central election campaign committee, asking for voters to support his bid for a lawmaker post in the city. Lee, who lost in the presidential election against Yoon, is vying to return to the center stage of politics in the upcoming election.

By Ko Jun-tae (ko.juntae@heraldcorp.com)
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