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In bellwether Seoul, ruling Democratic Party ‘confident’ of victory

Rival candidates Oh Se-hoon (L) from the United Future Party and Ko Min-jung (R) from the Democratic Party pose for photo before their debate in Seoul on April 3 ahead of the April 15 parliamentary election. (Yonhap)
Rival candidates Oh Se-hoon (L) from the United Future Party and Ko Min-jung (R) from the Democratic Party pose for photo before their debate in Seoul on April 3 ahead of the April 15 parliamentary election. (Yonhap)

The largest metropolis in South Korea, Seoul comprises one-fifth of the country’s 50 million-strong population and is a key battleground in the April 15 parliamentary election between liberals and conservatives.

It is also where some of the hottest races are taking place, including a duel between rival political parties’ presidential front-runners.

With the general elections only a week away, the ruling Democratic Party of Korea is confident of a win, saying it has a clear lead in at least 33 out of 49 constituencies in the capital. The main opposition United Future Party said it would likely secure 17 seats.

The Democratic Party said it still maintains sway over its traditional strongholds, mainly areas north of the Han River, which cuts through Seoul from east to west.

The United Future Party, on the other hand, relies on the southern districts of Gangnam, Seocho and their neighboring constituencies -- areas generally deemed more affluent than their northern counterparts.

One of the key battlefields is the symbolic Jongno district, which is home to the presidential office and key government offices. There, Lee Nak-yon from the ruling party will face off against main opposition party Chairman Hwang Kyo-ahn.

A former prime minister who served under President Moon Jae-in, Lee is a potential presidential candidate, having served as governor of South Jeolla Province and being a four-term legislator.

Rival Hwang also served as prime minister under ex-President Park Geun-hye, and doubled as acting president when she was suspended from office upon her impeachment.

Hwang, however, has never held elected office or served in the parliament, which has been seen as a setback casting doubt as to his credentials for the district as well as for presidential leadership.

Polls put Lee in a clear lead over Hwang, and Hwang’s camp agrees he is the underdog. But his camp contends that he has just started riding on upward momentum and will pull out a come-from-behind victory.

In southern Seoul, Dongjak is a swing district where the United Future Party’s four-term lawmaker Na Kyung-won, who has served for the district twice, is unexpectedly struggling to seal a third victory against judge-turned-lawmaker Lee Su-jin of the ruling party.

Oh Se-hoon, a former Seoul mayor elected twice on the conservative party’s ticket after serving as a legislator, has also found himself locked in a close match with the opposing Ko Min-jung, Moon’s former presidential spokesperson, in the Gwangjin district.

The poll shows President Moon’s weekly approval rating since the fifth week of January, 2020, with the latest rating standing at 53.7 in favor of Moon. Approval and disapproval rating are shown in blue and red, respectively. (Realmeter)
The poll shows President Moon’s weekly approval rating since the fifth week of January, 2020, with the latest rating standing at 53.7 in favor of Moon. Approval and disapproval rating are shown in blue and red, respectively. (Realmeter)

The liberal political newcomers have brought their fights close to even, thanks in part to President Moon’s rising approval ratings in recent weeks.

According to the latest poll from Realmeter released Monday, Moon’s approval rating rose to its highest level in more than 17 months, owing to the government’s countermeasures against the coronavirus pandemic.

Moon’s approval rating stood at 53.7 percent, while 43.2 percent disagreed with Moon’s handling of the government. More self-employed people and residents in the southeastern Gyeongsang provinces supported Moon this time, helping the rating to hike further.

In contrast, the main opposition United Future Party has recently seen its approval rating sliding, as some of its candidates have gone on to make slips of the tongue during the campaign.

Observers speculate the series of faux pas might have unexpectedly pushed moderates and the undecided altogether farther away from the United Future Party, if not directly over to the ruling Democratic Party.

By Choi Si-young (siyoungchoi@heraldcorp.com)
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