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South Korea’s New President Gets Boost in Big Election Win

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(Bloomberg) -- South Korea President Yoon Suk Yeol’s conservative party took a decisive victory in elections for leaders of major cities and provinces, in a show of support for his policies coming just three weeks after he took office.

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Yoon’s People Power Party won 12 of the 17 major posts in elections held Wednesday for provincial governors and mayors, including the top job in the two biggest cities of Seoul and Busan, according to data from National Election Commission.

“The election results show the will of the people to revive the economy and protect their livelihoods,” presidential spokeswoman Kang In-sun quoted Yoon as saying after final vote numbers came out Thursday.

The Democratic Party, which took 14 of the posts in the last election four years ago, suffered a sharp fall and won just five posts this time. The party’s candidate, former finance minister Kim Dong-yeon, won the most populous province of Gyeonggi by 0.14 percentage point over a relative newcomer from the PPP, a sharp fall in support in the province the Democratic Party won by more than 20 percentage points in the last election in 2018.

Yoon, who took office on May 10 after winning a razor-thin race, has pledged to spur economic growth driven by the private sector, but his policy priorities are hitting a roadblock in the National Assembly, where the Democratic Party holds a solid majority. This could force the president and the PPP to try to make changes at the local level, until at least the next elections for parliament in 2024.

“The result would boost the political power of Yoon to push parts of his policy agenda,” said Shin Yul, a political science professor at Myongji University in Seoul.

One key issue for voters was housing prices that doubled in urban centers such as Seoul during the term of former President Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party -- as wages failed to keep pace. Yoon has pledged to build thousands of housing units and make rents affordable but hasn’t been in office long enough to make any real impact.

The mayor of Seoul is considered one of the top elected offices in the country and its current holder, conservative Oh Se-hoon, easily won the race, the election committee data showed.

The Democratic Party won the races in the two biggest cities four years ago but the former mayor of Busan, Oh Keo-don, was forced out for sexually assaulting female employees while Park Won-soon, the mayor of Seoul, committed suicide in 2020 when an investigation was closing in on him for sexually harassing his staff members. Oh Keo-don was eventually sent to prison and the conservatives won special elections for the vacant seats in both cities.

Parliament approved a record extra budget this week that had been forged during the presidential transition. It’s likely to be the last round of such fiscal support to offset the economic impact of coronavirus, given escalating inflationary pressure is now the key challenge.

“We received our second punishment” after the presidential election, the Democratic Party’s interim chief Park Ji-hyun said on her Facebook page. “We completely failed to win the hearts of our people.”

(Updates with election results, quotes.)

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