South Korean President Moon gets power boost after landslide election victory

Former prime minister Lee Nak-yon and his wife, Ms Kim Suk-hee, after winning the Jongno seat on April 15, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SEOUL - South Korea's ruling party has secured a landslide victory in the parliamentary elections, in what is viewed as a huge boost to the power of President Moon Jae-in.

Data from the National Election Commission yesterday showed that the liberal Democratic Party (DP) and its affiliated Together Citizens' Party won a combined 180 seats in the 300-member Parliament, a majority that will allow it to push through most Bills.

This is the largest majority that any party has won since 1987.

The main opposition, the conservative United Future Party (UFP) and its affiliated Future Korea Party, won just 103 seats.

In the outgoing Parliament, DP held 123 seats and UFP 122.

Wednesday's (April 15) election is widely seen as a referendum on President Moon, whose five-year term will end in May 2022.

Observers attributed DP's victory to the government's efficient handling of the coronavirus outbreak, which has drawn international praise. South Korea is lauded for its massive testing capability and innovative measures such as drive-through testing.

Having a legislative majority will allow Mr Moon to run state affairs smoothly for the rest of his term and give renewed momentum to proposals stuck in Parliament, such as reform of the prosecution.

He will also be more empowered to seek the passage of Bills, supplementary budgets and coronavirus-related measures such as the proposed emergency disaster relief scheme that will benefit 14 million families whose lives were disrupted by the outbreak. These families will get up to one million won (S$1,160) in vouchers.

Expressing his gratitude to voters via his spokesman, Mr Moon on Thursday pledged to "believe in the people and proceed boldly in the face of an unprecedented national crisis".

He also promised that the government will "undertake heavy responsibility" and that he "will never be arrogant and listen humbly to the voices of the people".

With the DP's massive win, a strong contender for the next presidential elections has also emerged - former prime minister Lee Nak-yon, who beat UFP's Hwang Kyo-ahn in the central Jongno constituency in Seoul, which is seen as a springboard to the presidential Blue House.

Mr Lee won 58.3 per cent of votes, compared with Mr Hwang's 39.9 per cent.

Mr Lee, who is leading in opinion polls as the most popular potential presidential candidate, thanked Jongno residents for their support and said he feels "a great responsibility" to the people.

The main opposition UFP, meanwhile, apologised to supporters for its poor performance.

UFP election committee co-chairman Kim Chong-in said the party was underprepared and failed to reinvent itself since falling from public favour due to the impeachment of former president Park Geun-hye in 2017.

Mr Hwang, who was acting president during Park's impeachment trial, has resigned from UFP to take responsibility for its poor showing.

Experts said voters decided to support the government instead of holding it accountable for problems such as Mr Moon's controversial income-led growth policy as they felt that overcoming the coronavirus outbreak took priority over everything else.

The virus has so far infected 10,613 people and killed 229, even though the number of new cases has remained below 50 for a week.

Despite concerns about infections, a surprisingly high 66.2 per cent of voters - the highest in 28 years - went out to vote.

This shows that voters "felt they must rally behind the government in times of a crisis", the mainstream Chosun Ilbo newspaper said in an editorial.

The Hankyoreh newspaper said people were "determined to exercise their right to vote despite the inconvenience of social distancing" and fulfil their civic duty.

However, the left-leaning paper also warned in an editorial that "this is no time" for the ruling party to be complacent, and it should focus all resources on "overcoming the economic crisis that's starting to develop" in the wake of the outbreak.

Chosun Ilbo urged the Moon administration to use its power wisely, listen to the public, and change policies that are not working.

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