October 13, 2023
SEOUL – The leadership of the ruling People Power Party on Thursday remained largely silent after Kim Tae-woo was defeated in a by-election widely seen as a barometer of public sentiment ahead of the general election next year. Kim was contending to be chief of Seoul’s western Gangseo — a seat he vacated himself in May.
Although polls leading to the election on Tuesday consistently showed Kim falling behind his Democratic Party of Korea rival Jin Gyo-hoon, he was defeated by a far greater margin — 17 percentage points — than anticipated by the ruling party.
On the landslide defeat, People Power Party Floor Leader Rep. Yun Jae-ok told reporters the party “humbly accepts” the voter sentiment as demonstrated in the Gangseo-gu election.
“The results of this election have implications that resonate across the country beyond a single district in the capital city,” he said in a briefing following a closed-door meeting of the party’s leadership.
In the days leading to the election, the ruling party had attempted to downplay the significance of the election, with its spokesperson’s office saying that Gangseo was a “traditionally Democratic Party-leaning district.”
Rep. Lee Jae-myung, leader of the Democratic Party, said in a post-victory speech that the results of the Gangseo-gu election were reflective of the people’s souring view of the president. He said his party’s victory was “the people’s voice” and a “wake-up call” for the ruling party and administration in power.
Kim, a pick that was met by opposition within his own party, was able to launch a second bid to head the Seoul district after he was pardoned by President Yoon Suk Yeol on Liberation Day on Aug. 15, as part of a presidential custom for major holidays.
The court in May handed Kim a suspended jail sentence, finalizing his conviction for leaking official secrets when he sought to blow the whistle on previous President Moon Jae-in’s Cheong Wa Dae. He was removed as Gangseo-gu’s chief immediately upon the conviction, making him a controversial choice to regain the seat.
The presidential office said in a brief statement the morning after the election that “the results of any election, not only the one held in Gangseo-gu, must be taken seriously.”
The candidate’s loss in the Seoul district spurred calls for renewing the ruling party’s plan to win Seoul in the general election slated for April next year.
Following the defeat, the ruling party announced it was forming a special task force dedicated to developing strategies for Seoul, a key swing city that could determine which party takes control of the National Assembly. The capital city has 40 members in the Assembly now, with just nine of them from the ruling party and the rest from the Democratic Party.
Also on Thursday, the contested nominee for the minister of gender equality, Kim Haeng, announced she was abandoning her nomination — a move that insiders interpreted as being in response to the president and the ruling party’s faltering ratings.
In a statement, she said she decided to give up her nomination to put her party first. “My loyalty is to the party first,” she said. “I have arrived at the conclusion that this is the best choice that I can make for the Yoon Suk Yeol administration and the People Power Party.”
The nominee came under fire during Assembly confirmation hearings over suspicions raised by the Democratic Party that she made an illicit cryptocurrency deal while running an online news outlet called Wikitree.