Sohn Hak-kyu, leader of the main opposition Democratic Party, paved his way to the presidential race next year by beating his ruling party rival in the Bundang-B constituency in Wednesday’s by-elections.
The ballot count started soon after the polls closed at 8 p.m. but Sohn’s lead over Kang Jae-sup, a candidate of the ruling Grand National Party, was apparent from the early stages.
The DP leader became the most dramatic winner in this year’s by-elections, which were largely considered a prelude to next year’s bigger races.
“I am both grateful for and burdened by my hard-won victory,” Sohn said.
“The people, through their votes, have asked for changes in this country and I cannot but accede to their call.”
Sohn’s party also celebrated victory in Gangwon Province where candidate Choi Moon-soon won over his powerful rival, Ohm Ki-young of the GNP, with 51.1 percent to 46.6 percent.
“This victory is the result of a successful consolidation within the opposition camp,” said Choi, once announced as governor-elect.
The ruling party barely succeeded in safeguarding Gimhae, where candidate Kim Tae-ho beat Lee Bong-soo of the minority People’s Participation Party, who was also the sole opposition candidate.
The former South Gyeongsang governor ended up with 51 percent of the vote over his opponent’s 49 percent, slightly overturning previous public polls.
With his hard-won victory in the hometown of the late President Roh Moo-hyun, Kim proved his potential in the political arena.
He came into the national spotlight last year when he was designated prime minister nominee but suffered the disgrace of stepping down within three weeks amid a bribery scandal.
In Suncheon, South Jeolla Province, candidate Kim Sun-dong of the Democratic Labor Party won over other independent candidates.
The opposition party’s dominance was largely supported by the unprecedentedly high voter turnout ― a record high of 43.5 percent.
The regional figures were especially high in Bundang and Gangwon, with 49.1 percent and 47.5 percent, respectively.
Generally, the higher the voting rate, the better the chances for opposition parties in elections.
In most of the areas, the voting rate graph showed two major upturns, in the morning and evening commuting hours, indicating participation from younger voters.
Votes from citizens aged over 60 were distributed evenly throughout the entire day, according to the National Election Commission.
“The relatively young voters in their 30s and 40s have expressed their complaints against the current administration by casting their votes,” said Shin Yul, professor of political sciences at Myongji University.
“Sohn is largely known for his central, non-partial stance within the political arena, which may have appealed to the Bundang voters who aspired for changes.”
The by-election voting kicked off at 6 a.m. and ended at 8 p.m. Wednesday.
The elected lawmakers will hold office for a year until the general election next April and the Gangwon governor until the local elections in June 2014.
By Bae Hyun-jung (email@example.com