South Korea

South Koreans vote for 3,952 local officials


Just a few weeks ago it looked as though the ruling Saenuri Party would sail through the local elections taking place today. But the bungled handling of the Sewol Ferry disaster which took place on 16th April has changed all of that.

Opinion ratings for President Park Geun-hye have plummeted from 60% approval down to around 40% in the most recent polls. The ruling party was not helped by the revelations that Ahn Dai-hee had made $1.56 million within months of retiring from the Supreme Court and before being nominated as Prime Minister; subsequently he stood down but not before the damage had been done.

With all of this happening, it has put the Saenuri Party on the back foot and left the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) in an attacking mode. Not that either party is expected to do well in all regions.

In the capital Seoul, incumbent Park Won-soon of the NPAD is expected to win comfortably. But in Busan and Gwangju, traditional strongholds of the Saenuri Party and NPAD respectively, independents may do well. A recent opinion poll suggested that many people are turning their backs on both main parties and may vote for independents instead.

A bad result for the Saenuri Party will probably lead to a more wide ranging reshuffle of the Cabinet than the recent limited affair. A good result for them will give the President more space to carry out social reforms in the remaining years of her presidency.

In today’s elections, 3,952 people will be elected in four tiers of local government as follows:

• Mayors of eight metropolitan areas – Seoul, Busan, Daegu, Incheon, Gwangju, Daejeon, Ulsan and Sejong City and members of their city councils and education superintendents

• Governors of the country’s nine provinces and the members of the provincial councils/legislatures and education superintendents

• Mayors of 74 smaller cities and their city council members

• Heads of the 69 district offices and members of their district councils

In 2010 the Saenuri Party (known then as the Grand National Party) won four of the seven metropolitan areas and two governors from the nine provinces. The NPAD (known then as the Democratic Party) won two metropolitan mayors and five provincial governors.

Of the 41.3 million registered voters around 4.7 million (11.5%) took the opportunity to vote in advance voting last week which in turn suggests a higher than normal turnout; voter turnout in 2010 was 54.5%.

Voters will vote between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. across 13,600 polling stations and first results will start coming in around 11 p.m. local time.

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