The opposition seems to have made important progress in preparations for next year’s general and presidential elections as its candidates marked a better-than-expected performance in Wednesday’s by-elections.
This round of by-elections were relatively minor, involving the replacement of three lawmakers, one provincial governor and 34 municipal or district officials.
But the races were a bridge between last June’s local elections and next year’s general and presidential contests.
Big names, even potential presidential candidates, have stepped up to represent their parties, an unusual turn for by-elections.
Most of the attention was focused on three constituencies ― Bundang-B, Gimhae-B and Gangwon Province.
The top priority for both the ruling Grand National Party and the main opposition Democratic Party was to safeguard Bundang, where their former and incumbent leaders confronted each other.
But despite earlier expectations that the Bundang race would be tight up to the last minute, the DP leader showed a clear and steady lead over his rival from when the ballot count started a little after 8 p.m and nabbed the seat at close to midnight.
It was felt within the GNP that the Bundang constituency had to be guarded at all costs.
Bundang, a largely middle-class area, has traditionally been a stronghold for the conservative party, and the DP win there indicates a shift in public sentiment and constitutes a major threat to the GNP.
In-party censure is also expected for Yim Tae-hee, chief presidential secretary, who designated Kang as Sohn’s opponent.
On the other hand, Sohn has jumped in status, both as opposition party leader and as potential presidential candidate.
The party leader risked his political career on his candidacy in GNP-dominated Bundang.
“Though it was understood that Sohn made a personal risk by entering candidacy in Bundang, he would nevertheless have suffered had he lost in the contest,” said a DP official.
But by successfully coming out top in one of the GNP’s strategic strongholds, he has reinforced his reputation as a capable political leader.
The former GNP lawmaker also recovered from long-standing public criticism for leaving his home party.
“Sohn is regarded by many as being neutral and non-partial, which may have appealed to the younger voters,” said Shin Yul, professor in political sciences in Myongji University.
Sohn’s DP also saw positive results in Gangwon Province as candidate Choi Moon-soon beat his powerful opponent, Ohm Ki-young of the GNP.
The victory was all the more significant for the opposition party as the crucial issue to face Ohm in the last stages was an illicit campaigning allegation.
The ruling party, which previously enjoyed strong support in the area, not only handed over the Gangwon governor post to the DP but also is likely to suffer damage to its reputation over the charges.
Furthermore, the DP will get extra momentum from GNP candidate Kim Tae-ho’s victory over sole opposition candidate Lee Bong-soo in Gimhae.
Rhyu Si-min, leader of Lee’s minority People’s Participation Party, previously stood as a potential opponent to the DP within the opposition camp.
He is, however, now expected to take lose momentum as a candidate upon the results, especially as he lost in the hometown of the late President Roh Moo-hyun, whom he claimed to succeed politically.
The general elections are to take place in April next year, followed by the presidential race in November.
By Bae Hyun-jung (firstname.lastname@example.org