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President Moon Jae-in’s Democratic Party could be heading for its biggest defeat in five years in mayoral elections on Wednesday in South Korea’s two largest cities, a worrying sign for its progressive bloc just 11 months before the presidential election.
Polls show conservatives with significant advantages in by-elections in Seoul and Busan, fueled by public anger over property prices in major cities that have skyrocketed under Moon.
Losses in cities that make up about a quarter of South Korea’s population could dampen Moon’s agenda to increase public employment and a push for higher fiscal spending. It would also serve as a warning to his Democratic Party that it needs to renew its policies if it wants to maintain the presidency when Moon’s five-year term ends in 2022.
In Seoul, Oh Se-hoon, a former mayor who ran as a conservative opposition candidate, was the choice of 50.5% of respondents, while Democratic candidate Park Young-sun, a former startup minister, scored a 28. , 2%, in a survey. by Korea Research International, IPSOS and Hankook Research published a week ago, before the official lockdown period
In Busan, Park Hyung-jun of the conservative People Power Party was far ahead of Kim Young-choon of Moon’s progressive party, according to a separate report. survey carried out by the three institutions.
The polls are open until 8 p.m. At 3 p.m., turnout was 45.2% in Seoul and 40.2% in Busan, slightly lower than at the same time in the last elections of 2018, when the Polls closed two hours earlier, according to the National Electoral Commission.
Oh, also backed by the PPP, has criticized the Moon government for tightening regulations on redevelopment and limiting the number of building permits over the years, saying the attempt to control private builders’ profits has failed. .
Oh He resigned as mayor of Seoul in 2011 after losing a fight to curb free lunches for students in the capital to cut public spending, fueling criticism for being stingy. A return to power could indicate that public sentiment has soured toward Moon’s economic policies that prioritize wealth redistribution and fiscal aid. Park has also shown dissatisfaction with Moon’s real estate policy and distanced himself from the president.
“If the PPP wins, Moon is likely to become a lame jerk and undecided voters may jump on the People’s Power Party train in the coming months,” according to Shin Yul, a political science professor at Myongji University in Seoul.
Moon vowed to make housing more affordable when he was elected in 2017, but apartment prices in Seoul have doubled in the past five years, while South Korea’s wages have risen less than 20%, leaving housing in the capital out of reach of many people and part of it in the hands of a few speculators.
Amid housing anger, Moon’s support rate hit a new low last week, following allegations that employees of a state-run land corporation used inside information to make money off housing developments. in Seoul. The scandal was the latest in a series of questionable land deals that have plagued the Moon presidency.
The sliding poll numbers come after Moon and his allies won a supermajority in parliamentary elections about a year ago, generating a wave of public support for their handling of the coronavirus crisis. Moon’s party has scored a series of victories following the 2016 impeachment trial of former President Park Geun-hye, a Conservative leader who was later convicted of corruption.
The by-elections were necessary after the mayors of Seoul and Busan, both from Moon’s Democratic Party, faced allegations of sexual harassment, an embarrassment to Moon, who has announced herself as a feminist president.
– With the help of Sam Kim and Jiyeun Lee.
(Updates with participation figures in the sixth paragraph.)