Park Geun-hye’s ruling party strong at local elections despite South Korean ferry disaster

Local election results show little sign of a feared backlash over Sewol ferry disaster

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 June, 2014, 9:50am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 June, 2014, 4:23am


South Korea's ruling party breathed a sigh of relief yesterday after a stronger-than-expected showing in local elections seen as a referendum on President Park Geun-hye's handling of April's deadly ferry disaster.

Despite fears of a voter backlash, Park's New Frontier Party managed to win eight of the 17 main contests for city mayors and provincial governors.

The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy, which had urged voters to show their anger over Park's response to the Sewol tragedy, took nine.

"I don't think either side can really claim much of a victory," said Choi Jin, head of the Institute for Presidential Leadership.

"The opposition was hoping for more, but given Park's high ratings before the Sewol disaster, it's still done better than it would have expected two months ago."

Park's administration was sharply criticised over the disaster, and the polls were the first real chance to measure the political impact on a national level.

As well as retaining posts in its traditional regional strongholds, Park's party managed to win a number of key contests in Incheon city and Gyeonggi province.

"We put up a good defence even in the midst of the Sewol disaster," party secretary general Yoon Sang-hyun said.

The high popularity ratings Park has enjoyed since taking in office in February last year have been hammered by the sinking of the Sewol on April 16.

Initial investigations exposed a culture of institutional negligence, greed and incompetence that contributed to the scale of the tragedy, most of whose victims were schoolchildren.

These problems have roots stretching back decades, but Park and her officials became a default focus for much of the public grief and anti-establishment anger.