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[Editorial] Second reckoning

Voters turn backs on the Democratic Party for failing to reinvent after presidential poll 

The main opposition Democratic Party of Korea suffered a crushing defeat in the local elections.

The ruling People Power Party won by a landslide in the race for 17 metropolitan mayors and provincial governors, which was the highlight of the June 1 local polls. The conservative People Power Party took 12 constituencies including Seoul, while the liberal Democratic Party won in five regions, four of them being traditionally supportive of the party.

In the first nationwide poll held 22 days after the launch of the administration of President Yoon Suk-yeol and 84 days after the March 9 presidential election, voters cast ballots for the government party which signaled that the new administration should be able to conduct state affairs stably.

The People Power Party’s overwhelming victory will give momentum to the Yoon government. It will accelerate his reform drive to rectify the failed policies of the previous Moon Jae-in administration.

The Democratic Party’s election loss was expected to some extent. After losing the presidential election, it vowed to reflect and innovate. But it pushed through bills that would strip the prosecution of its entire investigative authority. It was a move to block investigations into allegations involving Lee Jae-myung, the former Gyeonggi governor and former Democratic Party presidential candidate, and figures close to former President Moon Jae-in. There was no reflection.

Yoon’s popularity and Lee’s candidacy also contributed to the People Power Party’s sweeping win. People welcomed the opening of the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae to the public. Yoon answered questions from reporters before entering the new office building. It was a sight that the people had not seen before. These were fresh changes.

Lee was a risk to the Democratic Party. Not long after losing in the presidential election, he ran in the by-elections for one of seven seats in the National Assembly, held on the same day as the local elections. His candidacy raised suspicions that he was seeking a seat in the National Assembly to earn the lawmakers’ privilege of exemption from apprehension while the Assembly is in session.

Though he served as Seongnam mayor, he did not run in a constituency of Seongnam, but in a constituency called Gyeyang-gu in Incheon. He has no connections there at all, but it is regarded as a long-standing Democratic Party district. His election pledge to relocate Gimpo International Airport to develop Gyeyang-gu and surrounding areas caused controversy, adversely affecting the election campaigns of other Democratic Party candidates.

Lee won, but his party lost. He was chair of the election committee in charge of supporting all of its candidates’ campaigns. He cannot but take responsibility for losses in other election districts.

He has earned exemption with his victory in Gyeyang-gu, but it would be hard to avoid investigations over allegations about a corruption-ridden land development project, the misuse of government credit cards and other scandals from his past. The prosecution and police are investigating.

Sexual misconduct scandals involving Democratic Party lawmakers Choe Kang-wook and Park Wan-joo and absurd remarks by their colleague lawmaker Kim Nam-kuk and Choe during the nomination hearing of Justice Minister nominee Han Dong-hoon invited criticism of the Democratic Party.

The Democratic Party took a sweeping victory in the general elections two years ago, then lost two successive elections. Why did this happen to the party? Popular sentiment did not change abruptly. Support for the party was already long gone.

Voters got sick of the hypocrisy, divisiveness and stubbornness of the past five years. Among others, the party’s legislation dictatorship after it won the general elections infuriated many voters.

Voters chose stability of state affairs by casting ballots for the People Power Party, and yet the Democratic Party still dominates the National Assembly. This situation remains unchanged.

The Democratic Party must ponder why the public turned its back on it in the presidential and local elections. It must stop legislating bills autocratically. If it shows a mature and reasonable attitude to the new government’s reform drive while criticizing it, people will support it again.

By Korea Herald (khnews@heraldcorp.com)
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