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S. Korean by-elections in sight
Publication Date : 03-09-2013
With the summer heat beginning to recede, political circles are setting their sights on a round of South Korea's parliamentary by-elections scheduled for this fall, the results of which could change the framework of the partisan confrontation that has intensified in recent months. The outcome will also draw attention as a litmus test of the local elections to be held in June next year.
Ruling party candidates have suffered defeats in most previous by-elections, which served as occasions for voters to check or express discontent with an incumbent president. The upcoming polls, which will be held on October 30 in up to 11 constituencies, might have been framed mainly as the initial evaluation of President Park Geun-hye’s performance, until an alleged rebellion plot involving a leftist lawmaker was brought to light last week.
The liberal main opposition Democratic Party suddenly found itself facing the possibility of an electoral judgement on its past solidarity with the minor Unified Progressive Party whose members, including Rep. Lee Seok-ki, were allegedly involved in planning an armed revolt in support of North Korea. The shocking case threatens to unravel its tactics to score points by highlighting the state spy agency’s alleged interference in last December’s presidential vote, in which Park defeated her rival contender from the DP by a narrow margin. Its outdoor protest campaign is likely to be further out of sync with the public sentiment, as the investigation into the revolt conspiracy is unfolding. The DP will feel the need to sever its links with the minor leftist party by helping pass a motion to approve the arrest of Rep. Lee during a regular parliamentary session that opened Monday.
The conservative ruling Saenuri Party is hoping that it will trounce the opposition bloc in the upcoming by-elections on the back of the public’s heightened sense of security. Saenuri officials also expect that President Park’s high approval rating, which has exceeded 60 per cent, will translate into support for its candidates.
But it may be too early to predict a landslide victory for the ruling party, as there is still the possibility that voters, especially those in the Seoul metropolitan areas, will give their verdict on the ways Park has handled economic issues and the prolonged standoff with the opposition. It remains to be seen whether Park will become more flexible toward the main opposition party in the run-up to the by-elections or keep her principled stance, riding the momentum in her favour.
It might help turn the political confrontation into a more compromising atmosphere if the results of the by-elections change either or--hopefully--both of the rival parties. The side that remains intransigent regardless of the outcome is certain to lose more crucial elections in the years to come.