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Ruling party hopes to extend dominance in Incheon, Gyeonggi

Gyeonggi governor’s approval rating rises as new factor

Kim Chong-in, chief of main opposition United Future Party`s election committee, supports campaign of Shin Gye-yong, the party`s candidate for Uiwang-Gwacheon constituency on Thursday. Yonhap
Kim Chong-in, chief of main opposition United Future Party`s election committee, supports campaign of Shin Gye-yong, the party`s candidate for Uiwang-Gwacheon constituency on Thursday. Yonhap

With more than a quarter of the constituencies in the balance in Incheon and Gyeonggi Province, the ruling and main opposition parties are concentrating much of their firepower in the region in the run-up to the general elections.

On Thursday, both the ruling Democratic Party of Korea and main opposition United Future Party fielded heavyweights in the region to support their candidates’ campaigns, as they each seek at least half of the 72 constituencies there.

The ruling party is said to be eyeing at least 50 of the 59 constituencies in Gyeonggi Province, and seven or more of Incheon’s 13.

The conservative opposition, for its part, is hoping for 30 or more in Gyeonggi Province and at least six in Incheon.

Unlike other regions, past general election results in the area have been less clear cut.

In the 2016 general elections, the Democratic Party took Gyeonggi Province in a sweeping victory, winning 40 of the 60 constituencies. In Incheon, which includes some long-time conservative strongholds -- the Democratic Party won seven constituencies versus the Saenuri Party’s four. Saenuri Party was then the ruling conservative party, which has since been reorganized into the United Future Party.

In the 2012 general elections, the predecessors of the current ruling and main opposition parties were more evenly matched, with the two parties each taking six constituencies in Incheon. In Gyeonggi Province, the ruling party’s predecessor took 29, and Saenuri Party 21 constituencies.

While the Democratic Party is said to consider many of the races in the region as likely to be close, polls show the party may have an edge.

A Gallup Korea poll for the first week of April showed that 43 percent of Incheon-Gyeonggi voters support the Democratic Party. In comparison, 21 percent of respondents in the region chose the United Future Party.

Recent changes in President Moon Jae-in’s approval ratings are considered to be another factor, as the ruling party’s ratings often move in tandem with the president’s approval ratings.

A Gallup Korea poll showed that Moon’s approval rating rose to 56 percent from 55 percent in the previous week and 49 percent a week earlier. At 61 percent, the figure for Incheon and Gyeonggi Province is significantly higher than the national average.

In addition, pundits project that support for Gyeonggi Province Gov. Lee Jae-myung will also influence the outcome of this year’s elections. Despite numerous controversies, Lee gained popularity this year in his response to the COVID-19 outbreak, particularly with regard to his handling of the Christian sect Shincheonji Church of Jesus, which was at the center of the outbreak in Daegu. While the central government took a cautious approach to cracking down on the group, Lee cracked down hard, closing down the religious group’s facilities and seizing the list of its congregation in Gyeonggi Province.

“It (Lee’s recent popularity) cannot but have an influence. He is a local government head, and a potential presidential candidate, and took very strong measures such as the disaster income,” Bae Jong-chan, head of local research firm Insight-K, said in a radio interview Thursday. He added that Lee’s actions will have an influence on small business owners and younger voters.

While the ruling party’s campaign gains indirect support, the United Future Party has been plagued by controversial comments from its candidates.

On the heels of a candidate being removed from the party over a controversial remark, another candidate has also made headlines, leading to the party’s election committee chief Kim Chong-in issuing a public apology Thursday.

In the latest case, the United Future Party’s candidate for the Bucheon-C constituency Cha Myeong-jin has been put to the party’s ethics committee for his comment claiming that a volunteer and a family member of a Sewol ferry tragedy victim engaged in inappropriate relations inside a tent used for protests against the government’s handling of the incident.

Kim has said that Cha, a former lawmaker with two terms under his belt, would be removed from the party.

By Choi He-suk (