Korean voters send warnings to both parties in wake of ferry disaster

Korean voters send warnings to both parties in wake of ferry disaster

Voters sent both warnings and encouragement to the ruling and main opposition parties through Wednesday's local elections, calling for bipartisan efforts following the April 16 ferry disaster and a focus on enhancing people's lives, analysts said Thursday.

Although the opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy bagged nine gubernatorial seats, one more than those clinched by the Saenuri Party, there was no clear winner in the elections, which put both parties in a soul-searching mode, they said.

"In Wednesday's polls, voters did not give any overwhelming support for any of the parties, perhaps because they were still recovering from the shock from the maritime disaster," said Lee Jung-hee, politics professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.

"Through the elections, voters may have wanted to convey their hopes that both parties should be reborn and join hands to emerge from the disaster and move the country forward."

Throughout the election campaigns, the government's bungled response to the ferry disaster proved to be the main variable working against the ruling party.

But the election results suggested that the political impact of the disaster was limited. Some analysts said that voters wanted to give President Park Geun-hye momentum to push for her drive to reform the social safety system. Others argued that voters expressed their views that political circles, regardless of their political affiliations, were not free of blame for the disaster.

"Of course, the Park administration first should take the basic responsibility for the inept response to the ferry disaster and poor national safety system. But can we say that the opposition parties were free from that, other vested interests were free from that? That was perhaps how voters viewed the situation," said Lee.

Yun Seong-yi, politics professor at Kyung Hee University, said that the opposition's emphasis on voters' "judgment" of the government's incompetent handling of the disaster might have backfired.

"The opposition parties did not give enough trust to voters about how they would have done in the government's shoes or how they would improve the safety system if they were in office. They just repeatedly stressed the need to punish, punish and punish the government," he said.

"With the mantra of 'judgment' against the ruling bloc, the supporters of the opposition bloc might have felt happy. But it might not have appealed to those (undecided voters or centrist voters). They should have been clearer about their vision, plans, etc."

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