The Korea Herald


Parties gather to prep for 2024 general elections

By Kim Arin

Published : Aug. 28, 2023 - 19:16

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President Yoon Suk Yeol addresses his party’s lawmakers during a banquet held at a venue in Incheon near Seoul on Monday. (Yonhap) President Yoon Suk Yeol addresses his party’s lawmakers during a banquet held at a venue in Incheon near Seoul on Monday. (Yonhap)

INCHEON -- South Korea’s two major parties each embarked on two-day preparation sessions from Monday, to plan for the last regular session of the National Assembly before legislative elections in April.

The ruling People Power Party’s retreat in Incheon was attended by the entire party, as well as President Yoon Suk Yeol and some members of the Cabinet. Finance Minister Choo Kyung-ho gave the lawmakers a special lecture on challenges facing the country’s economy and policy milestones.

Yoon stopped by to give a pep talk to his party, which is outnumbered by the rival Democratic Party of Korea in the National Assembly, 111 to 168 seats.

The upcoming general election will be crucial in determining how easily the Yoon administration will be able to push its agenda as it enters the third of its five years.

Most of Yoon’s key election pledges, submitted to the Assembly as bills, have failed to pass because the opposition Democratic Party of Korea holds a strong majority. As of January, 86.5 percent -- 91 of 110 -- of the legislative items proposed by the Yoon administration were discarded in the Assembly.

Rep. Kim Gi-hyeon, leader of the People Power Party, said in opening remarks that since Yoon took office, the Democratic Party-controlled Assembly has continued to hold back bills pushed by the administration.

“In the general election next year, our aim has to be winning back the National Assembly without fail,” he said.

The party is focusing its attention on Seoul and surrounding areas, which are typically battleground districts less polarized than the southern provinces. Both parties are eyeing the capital area, where the race will likely be decided.

“The Seoul area will determine the election. Naturally it is the area that we will be chiefly focusing on, as we always have,” Rep. Yun Jae-ok, the ruling party's floor leader, told reporters. “The key is how we are going to embrace swing voters who do not lean toward either party.”

The new party preferences released Monday by pollster Realmeter showed the People Power Party running 10 percentage points behind the Democratic Party in Seoul -- 36.7 percent to 46.7 percent -- despite a 1.4 percentage-point climb from the second week of August. The ruling party managed to win only eight of Seoul’s 49 constituencies in the 2020 general election.

In the battle to reclaim the capital, the ruling party leadership has said that Seoul nominations will focus mostly on the candidates’ chance of winning, shunning concerns that those with closer ties to Yoon may be in a favored position.

In recent weeks, chief secretaries at the presidential office have announced their intention to run in next year’s election, worrying sitting lawmakers who are unlikely to earn Yoon's endorsement.

The most critical challenge facing the Democratic Party is its leader, Rep. Lee Jae-myung, whose legal troubles continue to grow.

Lee, who ran against Yoon in last year’s presidential election, may have an arrest warrant coming his way in the months ahead.

After escaping possible arrest in a narrow Assembly vote in February, Lee was charged with yet another criminal offense last week, with prosecutors naming him as a key suspect in a case of alleged transfers of cash to North Korea.

The Democratic Party said ahead of its own retreat in Gangwon Province on Monday that its leader would appear for questioning by prosecutors during a week in September when no Assembly session is scheduled.

At the retreat, Lee turned the focus on the conservative president's stance toward Japan.

Lee said in an address to his party that the Yoon administration was “jeopardizing the future of the country by turning a blind eye to horrendous acts of environmental destruction being committed by the Japanese government."

Lee added, "Our party once again urges the Yoon administration to stop being complicit in Japan’s dumping of radioactive waste in our waters.”