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Democratic Party leaders resign over crushing local elections defeat

People Power Party eyes another win in 2024 parliamentary elections

The Democratic Party of Korea’s emergency steering committee co-chairs, Yun Ho-jung (fourth from left) and Park Ji-hyun (fifth from left), bow as they announce their resignation at the National Assembly, taking responsibility for the party’s defeats in the local elections. (Joint Press Corps)
The Democratic Party of Korea’s emergency steering committee co-chairs, Yun Ho-jung (fourth from left) and Park Ji-hyun (fifth from left), bow as they announce their resignation at the National Assembly, taking responsibility for the party’s defeats in the local elections. (Joint Press Corps)
Leaders of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea resigned en masse Thursday following a crushing defeat in the local elections.

Rep. Yun Ho-jung, chair of the party’s emergency steering committee, announced following a party meeting that the committee will resign immediately “to assume responsibility” for the disappointing outcome.

“All members of the Democratic Party’s emergency committee have decided to resign from our posts to assume responsibility of the local elections’ outcome,” Yun told reporters, reading off a prepared statement.

“I thank the people for demanding the Democratic Party to bring greater reforms and learn from our mistakes, and we apologize to 2,974 candidates who have given their best (in the local elections).”

Yun resigned with co-chair Park Ji-hyun and six other emergency steering committee members, all of whom bowed in apology for the election defeat after Yun’s announcement.

The resignation comes just 80 days after the emergency steering committee was formed following the party’s defeat in the presidential election in March. Wednesday’s defeat marks the third election loss in a row for the Democratic Party, starting with the mayoral by-elections in April last year.

Yun said the party will elect new leaders by holding meetings among its legislators and consulting key party figures. The new leaders, if appointed, will head the party until the new chair is elected at the national convention in August.

Lee Jae-myung, the former presidential candidate of the Democratic Party who headed its election campaign committee, is likely to launch a bid to be the next chairman so he can try again for presidency in 2027.

He won a parliamentary by-election held on the sidelines of the local elections and started his first day as a lawmaker Thursday. The victory marked his successful return to the center stage of politics, even though he failed to bring victory for the party as the campaign leader.

Lee’s chairman bid faces internal hurdles even before any official announcement has been made. Many have blamed Lee for returning early to the spotlight and ruining the party’s attempt to win back public trust after it faced criticism for supporting him as its presidential nominee despite controversies.

The Democratic Party as a whole is under immense pressure to overhaul and bring reforms to its leadership, philosophy and strategies. Many voters were disappointed at the liberal faction following a series of sexual misconduct scandals and a continued internal power struggle.

Negative public opinion of the previous Moon Jae-in administration also contributed to the liberal party’s crushing defeat.

The ruling People Power Party, after successfully finishing the local elections, announced it would launch a special committee to prepare for the next general elections scheduled for 2024, where its members will discuss means to bring reforms to the party and its nomination guidelines.

The party looks to ride the wave of momentum onto the next parliamentary elections and achieve a hypermajority in the political scene, as the Democratic Party had during the Moon administration.

The National Assembly for the time being is effectively under the control of the Democratic Party, which controls 167 out of 300 legislative seats, as opposed to 114 seats for the People Power Party. The lack of power in the legislative branch has been hindering many ruling-party led initiatives.

“Although we achieved victory in the local elections, we have witnessed areas to innovate and work on while preparing for the election,” People Power Party Chairman Lee Jun-seok told reporters following a party meeting Thursday morning.

“Now as the ruling party, as a party that saw its number of members rise from 200,000 a year ago to 800,000 now, we have decided to launch a special committee for the purpose of reforming the party and identifying ways to bring true democracy for party members and adjust nomination processes,” Lee Jun-seok said.

Rep. Choe Jae-hyeong has been appointed to head the special committee based on Choe’s background as head of the state-run audit agency who prioritized justice and impartiality in vocally opposing the Moon administration’s controversial anti-nuclear policies, the chairman said.

The ruling party emphasized it will use the win achieved in the local elections to actively support the Yoon Suk-yeol administration and its initiatives.

In the local elections, the People Power Party won 12 out of 17 metropolitan mayoral and provincial gubernatorial elections, clinching a majority for the first time since 2006 when its predecessor, the Grand National Party, won 12 out of 16 major administrative posts.

The Democratic Party succeeded in winning only the Gyeonggi Province gubernatorial election, outside its traditional stronghold of North Jeolla, South Jeolla and Jeju provinces as well as Gwangju.

The ruling party also won five out of seven legislative seats up for grabs in the parliamentary by-elections held on the sidelines.

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