The main opposition People Power Party(PPP) candidates in Wednesday’s by-elections swept the mayoral posts in Seoul and Busan, handing a crushing defeat to the ruling Democratic Party(DP) in what is considered an indicator for next year’s presidential election.
According to the final vote tally by the National Election Commission(NEC) early Thursday, the PPP’s Oh Se-hoon garnered 57-point-five percent of the votes cast in the capital city over his DP rival Park Young-sun, who received 39-point-18 percent.
The conservative party’s candidate scored more votes than Park in all 25 districts in Seoul, including Gangnam where he led Park 73-point-54 percent to 24-point-32 percent.
The PPP’s Busan candidate Park Heong-joon also defeated the DP’s Kim Young-choon by a landslide margin, securing 62-point-67 percent of the votes in the nation’s second-largest city over Kim’s 34-point-42 percent.
With a total of 21 posts up for grabs in the latest election, the PPP won 13 out of the other 19 seats, including two regional head positions. Suh Dong-wook and Oh Tae-wan of the PPP were elected heads of Nam District in Ulsan and Euiyreong County in South Gyeongsang Province, respectively.
The victories by the main opposition party, which came a year after their crushing defeat in the general elections, were viewed as a reflection of growing public criticism against the government over sexual harassment scandals involving former DP-affiliated mayors, skyrocketing housing prices and alleged land speculation by public officials.
Many people headed to polling stations with the final voter turnout tallying 58-point-two percent in Seoul and 52-point-seven percent in Busan. It marks the first time turnout surpassed 50 percent for any by-election in a major city.
Exit polls jointly commissioned by terrestrial broadcasters KBS, SBS and MBC had predicted from early on that both PPP mayoral candidates would win their races by large margins, with Oh gaining 59 percent of voter support in Seoul and Park gaining 64 percent in Busan.
Both DP candidates, Park and Kim, admitted their defeat soon after ballot counting began. Park said on her social media that she will take time for “deep reflection” while Kim said he humbly accepts the results.
The PPP’s Oh and Park made their victory speeches hours before they were confirmed as the winners, thanking citizens in Seoul and Busan and vowing to work hard for them.
Oh, who previously served as Seoul mayor from 2006 to 2011 before he stepped down over a free school lunch issue, said he believes the citizens gave him another opportunity to serve so he could swiftly and aptly resolve mounting tasks for the capital city and alleviate difficulties.
Park said he humbly accepts the results, noting that Busan citizens’ support for him is not necessarily support for his party and that he will keep in mind that the public will always judge the PPP if it becomes arrogant and self-righteous.
Both winners will begin their term as mayor on Thursday and serve until June 30 of next year.
The mayoral by-elections were called after the previous mayors - Park Won-soon in Seoul and Oh Keo-don in Busan, both affiliated with the ruling party - left the posts last year amid sexual harassment allegations.
Park was found dead by apparent suicide last July, just a day after a female employee lodged a complaint against him.
The by-election results were largely viewed as a preliminary gauge of public sentiments toward the government ahead of the presidential election slated for March next year.