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South Koreans endorse Moon with sound election win

Rapprochement with North rewarded even in conservative centers

Democratic Party of Korea chief Choo Mi-ae celebrates victory Wednesday. Voters support President Moon Jae-in's overtures to the North like participation in the Pyeongchang Olympics.   © Reuters

SEOUL -- South Korea's ruling party won 13 of 17 local elections Wednesday, with the conservative opposition struggling even in its strongholds, as voters endorsed President Moon Jae-in's engagement with the North.

Voting began early Wednesday for mayoral and gubernatorial elections in eight major cities like Seoul and Busan and nine provinces, including Gyeonggi, outside Seoul. There were also 12 parliamentary seats up for grabs in by-elections.

The liberal Democratic Party of Korea secured 13 races, mainly around Seoul, while the conservative Liberty Korea Party is expected to win just two elections in the country's south. The two parties are neck and neck in South Gyeongsang Province, while the remaining race is likely to go to an independent candidate. The DPK and LKP each held six of these seats before the election, and four were unfilled.

Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon of the DPK also secured his re-election. The former civil rights activist beat the conservative Bareunmirae Party's Ahn Cheol-soo, who ran against Moon for president last year, and the LPK's Kim Moon-soo. The DPK is also expected to win the mayorallties of Busan and Ulsan, major cities in the traditionally conservative south.

The LKP is also mounting a desperate defense of Daegu, home to ousted President Park Geun-hye, and nearby South Gyeongsang in the south. Some even predicted that the LKP's survival would be threatened if it lost Daegu, considered one of the most conservative cities, but it appears to have held on.

The popularity of Moon has propelled the DPK to prominence, with his approval rating at over 70%. His accomplishments, such as North Korea's participation in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and the U.S.-North Korean summit, upstaged conservative candidates who focused on security issues and economic growth.

Apparently, many South Korean voters view Tuesday's summit favorably. DPK chief Choo Mi-ae said the summit surpassed her expectations as the first time Pyongyang has promised complete denuclearization. LKP chief Hong Joon-pyo, meanwhile, said the agreement lacked substance with no concrete plan for denuclearization.

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