+ A

Election may tip scales at National Assembly

May 16,2018
Twelve National Assembly seats will be contested in by-elections next month that could toss the legislative majority to the opposition party.

The stakes are high since the lawmakers will represent their districts for two years until the next general election in April 2020.

Of the 12 districts up for grabs, two are in Seoul - Nowon C and Songpa B - and they carry significant meaning for the two biggest parties because of their location in the capital.

Four other districts are in the Gyeongsang provinces, three are in Chungcheong, two in Jeolla and one in Incheon.

The seats could tip the scales of the National Assembly. The Democratic Party currently commands a majority - 118 lawmakers - while the Liberty Korea Party is slightly behind with 113 seats.

While the opposition hopes to take the majority, it has a tough road ahead because the Democratic Party and President Moon Jae-in currently command high approval ratings.

In a recent poll conducted by Realmeter at the request of local broadcaster CBS, Moon’s approval rating stood at 76.3 percent, unprecedented in Korea’s modern political history.

All of his predecessors have seen their popularity dwindle after a year in office, and none have seen ratings in the 70s.

Former President Roh Moo-hyun, under whom Moon served as chief of staff, saw his approval rating plummet to the 20 percent range in his second year in office in 2004.

Benefitting from Moon’s high approval rating, the Democratic Party has seen its approval rating hover well above the 50 percent range in recent weeks, riding on the public’s positive sentiment toward improved relations with North Korea and growing expectations for the upcoming North Korea-U.S. summit.

In the Realmeter poll, the Democratic Party’s approval stood at 56.3 percent, while the Liberty Korea Party was far behind with 17.7 percent.

The poll was conducted of 2,002 adults nationwide from Tuesday and Friday last week with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.2 percentage points.

While it remains to be seen whether the Democratic Party’s high approval rating will translate to seats next month, it is giving optimism to the ruling party, which last Friday elected a pro-Moon figure, Hong Young-pyo, as its floor leader.

Dismayed by the poll numbers, the chairman of the Liberty Korea Party, Hong Joon-pyo, dismissed the figures as “fake” on Monday and said they did not convey the people’s true sentiment.

The elections, he said in a Facebook post, will be heavily affected by “the North Korea variable,” and “fake polls” will dominate the news cycle.

“Let’s find out the public’s real sentiment on election day,” he said.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]