The conservative opposition People’s Power Party wins overwhelming victories in the votes of the mayors of the country’s two largest cities, Seoul and Busan.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s Democratic Party suffered devastating defeats in elections for mayors in the country’s two largest cities, results showed on Thursday, amid political scandals and political mistakes.

Wednesday’s election has been widely seen as a key barometer for potential political changes for Moon’s progressive party with less than a year to go for the March 9 presidential election.

The mayoral posts, both held by members of the Democratic Party, became vacant last year following allegations of sexual harassment, with Seoul mayor Park Won-soon committing suicide while the head of South Port of Busan was resigning.

Together, the two municipalities represent around a quarter of the national population.

In Seoul, Oh Se-hoon of the Conservative People’s Power Party beat his Democratic opponent by 57.5% to 39.2%, according to the National Election Commission, winning the city’s 25 districts.

“I can’t hold back the heavy sense of responsibility that really weighs on my mind,” Oh said.

Park Young-sun (center), a candidate for mayor of the ruling Democratic Party, was defeated by her conservative opponent in the by-election [Photo by Jung Yeon-je /AFP]

In Busan, People’s Party candidate Park Hyung-joon won 62.7% of the vote, beating Democrat Kim Young-choon who took 34.4%.

The turnout was 58.2% in Seoul and 52.7% in Busan, compared to 12.16 million people eligible to vote, surpassing 50% in a snap election for local offices for the first time. , according to the commission.

The two new mayors will serve the remaining 14 months of the four-year term of their predecessors.

‘Public reprimand’

Moon and his Democratic Party have struggled to bring down ratings in recent months amid public outrage over soaring house prices, deepening inequality and corruption and scandals sexual abuse involving senior officials.

In a statement, the ruling party said it “humbly accepts the public sentiment displayed in the election results,” adding, “We have caused huge disappointment to the public because of our shortcomings.”

In a separate statement, Moon said he viewed it as a “rebuke” from the public.

According to the spokesperson for the presidential palace Kang Min-seok, the president pledged to discharge his duties with “a humble attitude and a keen sense of responsibility”.

Moon also said he would focus his efforts on meeting the “desperate demands” of the people, including overcoming the COVID-19 crisis, revitalizing the economy and eradicating corruption.

Moon – who is limited to one term by South Korea’s constitution – saw his approval ratings dip to an all-time high of 32% last week, with 58% disapproving of the work he does, according to a survey by Gallup Korea.

The latest result of the vote stands in stark contrast to the parliamentary elections a year ago, when the Democratic Party won a resounding victory that gave it a super-majority in the National Assembly.

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