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Exit poll results hint at landslide victory for ruling party

People Power Party favored to win 10 out of 17 metropolitan mayoral, provincial gubernatorial elections

Members of the ruling People Power Party including Chairman Lee Jun-seok (right) and Floor Leader Kweon Seong-dong (left) cheer as they watch the exit poll results at the National Assembly in Seoul on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
Members of the ruling People Power Party including Chairman Lee Jun-seok (right) and Floor Leader Kweon Seong-dong (left) cheer as they watch the exit poll results at the National Assembly in Seoul on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
The ruling People Power Party appeared set for a landslide win in the local elections Wednesday, with exit poll results favoring its candidates in many key regions.

According to exit poll results from terrestrial broadcasters KBS, MBC and SBS released at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, the ruling People Power Party was favored to win 10 out of 17 metropolitan mayoral and provincial gubernatorial elections, as opposed to four for the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea.

The exit polls predicted Oh Se-hoon of the People Power Party to be victorious in the Seoul mayoral race against his rival Song Young-gil of the Democratic Party by a margin of 18.5 percentage points, while the People Power Party’s Yoo Jeong-bok was seen to be leading Park Nam-choon of the Democratic Party by 5.5 percentage points in Incheon.

The People Power Party was also seen to be leading in gubernatorial elections for North Chungcheong, South Chungcheong, Gangwon, North Gyeongsang and South Gyeongsang provinces. The party was shown to be leading in the Daegu, Ulsan and Busan mayoral elections as well.

The Democratic Party was strongly leading in gubernatorial elections for North Jeolla and South Jeolla provinces and Jeju Island, as well as in the Gwangju mayoral election.

The outcome remained uncertain for the Gyeonggi Province gubernatorial election, where exit poll results gave a slim lead for Kim Eun-hye of the People Power Party at just 0.6 percentage points ahead of Kim Dong-yeon of the Democratic Party.

The ruling party’s Choi Min-ho was leading by 1.2 percentage points against Lee Chun-hui of the Democratic Party for the Sejong mayoral election, and Lee Jang-woo of the People Power Party was seen as leading by 0.8 percentage points against Heo Tae-jeong of the Democratic Party in Daejeon.

Local broadcaster JTBC’s exit polls also predicted the People Power Party to turn out victorious in the local elections, expecting the ruling party to secure nine out of 17 metropolitan mayoral and gubernatorial elections, as opposed to four for the Democratic Party.

Wednesday’s local elections were also held to elect new heads of 226 lower-level administrative units, as well as 872 seats in provincial and metropolitan councils and 2,988 in lower-level local councils.

A total of 7,616 candidates registered as candidates for the local elections, recording the lowest-ever overall competition rate of 1.8 candidates per open seat, dipping below the previous record of 2.3 per open seat in 2014.

Exit poll results did not indicate full forecasts on which party would clinch how many of the public official posts up for grabs, but it was expected the People Power Party would claim the majority, as the ruling party was seen to be leading overall across the 17 metropolitan mayoral and gubernatorial elections.

The People Power Party was widely predicted to bolster its power in the local elections from early on. After the party won the presidential election in March, it was expected to continue the vibe of victory onto the June 1 elections, which were held just weeks after President Yoon Suk-yeol took office on May 10.

Upon release of the exit poll results, election campaign committee officials with the People Power Party screamed in joy and clapped loudly to find its candidates leading in most regions. They shouted “we won” endlessly, while congratulating each other for their expected victory in the local elections.

Party officials shouted candidates’ names as they popped up on TV screens inside the situation room at the National Assembly’s library. They clapped and expressed support for their nominees in mayoral and gubernatorial elections in the Democratic Party’s traditional strongholds.

“We expected us to win the elections, but this is beyond our expectations,” Rep. Kweon Seong-dong, floor leader of the People Power Party, told reporters after exit poll results were announced.

“Only 20 days have passed since the Yoon Suk-yeol government kicked off, and we believe these results reflect voters’ belief that they should show support for the People Power Party in the local elections for the new government to successfully carry out its agenda over the next five years.”

The Democratic Party’s situation room turned ice cold upon release of the exit polls, as they were way off the party’s expectations announced earlier. Key officials with the party said the results indicate how disappointed voters are with the liberal faction following a series of sexual misconduct scandals and a continued internal power struggle.

The public sentiment on the disappointing outcome of the five-year term of the Moon Jae-in administration was also reflected in the results, they added.

“I thank the people who cast their ballots for the local elections, and we will continue to monitor how they will turn out,” Rep. Yun Ho-jung, head of the emergency steering committee for the Democratic Party, told reporters after a question regarding whether the exit poll results met his expectations.

Lee Jae-myung, chief of the Democratic Party’s election campaign committee, did not answer questions from reporters, leaving the situation early at 7:40 p.m.

Both major political parties encouraged voters to cast their ballots in the local elections, as they saw a tight race continuing in many key regions. Local elections usually see much lower voter turnout than other elections, indicating that both parties could be losing votes.

Even though the local elections saw a promising early voting turnout over the weekend, the aggregate turnout fell much lower than expected and marked one of the lowest rates seen for any local elections.

Two-day early voting for the local elections that ran until Saturday ended with a turnout of 20.62 percent, as more than 9.13 million voters cast their ballots. It was the highest early turnout reached in local elections and fourth highest for any nationwide election in South Korea.

But by 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, the National Election Commission announced the tentative voter turnout to be 50.5 percent, 9.7 percentage points lower than 60.2 percent turnout reached in the previous 2018 local elections.

The latest figure is the second-lowest voter turnout recorded in South Korea’s local elections history, coming behind 48.9 percent in the third ever local elections held in 2002.

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