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June 13 elections will decide 4,016 positions

12 by-elections for National Assembly to be held at same time
May 26,2018
Competition is fierce among candidates running in next month’s local elections, with thousands of contenders having registered by the deadline yesterday.

Up for grabs on June 13 are 4,016 gubernatorial, mayoral, local council and superintendent seats in all 17 provinces. For the first time, by-elections for 12 seats in the National Assembly will also be held on the same day. The results could tip the scales in the legislature and give opposition parties a majority.

Any Korean citizen over the age of 25 can run for office, barring any legal ruling that explicitly prevents them from running. Approximately 6,600 candidates registered with the National Election Commission Thursday, and more registered Friday.

The biggest hurdle for most people will be the fee to list on the ballot, which ranges from 2 million won ($1,860) for a local council seat to 50 million won for those vying for governor.

Next month’s local elections are the seventh of their kind since provincial offices were opened up for contest again in 1995. Before then, regional executives were directly appointed by the central government following a military takeover in 1961.

Held every four years, local elections are often perceived as midterm referendums on the ruling party and presidential administration, although results have usually mirrored those of any presidential or general election held within the last two years.

The most recent election in Korea was the presidential by-election held on May 9, 2017, after Park Geun-hye was removed from office due to a bribery scandal. Moon Jae-in, her formal rival, won with an overwhelming 41.1 percent in a crowded field of candidates.

Polls indicate a similar pattern in the upcoming elections. Several forecasters have the ruling Democratic Party leading in 14 governor’s races, while the opposition Liberty Korea Party has the advantage in two. Won Hee-ryong, an incumbent running as an independent, is currently the front-runner in Jeju.

President Moon’s high approval ratings - hovering around 70 percent - owing to a mood of rapprochement following his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in April, is widely seen as the largest factor contributing to the ruling party’s high approval rating.

Although earlier forecasts suggested a lack of enthusiasm for the elections, with North Korea issues overshadowing the campaigns, a recent poll conducted by K-stat Research on behalf of the National Election Commission shows otherwise.

Out of 1,500 respondents, 70.9 percent answered they would “definitely vote” in the upcoming election, up 15.1 percent from the last local election conducted in 2014, while 20.8 percent answered they would “most likely vote,” indicating up to 91.7 percent could head to the polls in June.

The poll was conducted from May 16 to 24. Being the only major contest until the National Assembly election in April 2020, next month’s election results will likely have a powerful influence on the Moon administration’s policies and agenda during the rest of his term in office, which ends in 2022.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]