SINGAPORE -- South Korean voters supported President Moon Jae-in's party consolidate its power on Wednesday, a day after the historic U.S.-North Korea summit that Moon helped to orchestrate.
An exit poll released at 6 p.m. by broadcasters KBS, MBC and SBS showed the Democratic Party of Korea set to win in 14 of the 17 major cities and provinces being contested, including Seoul and Gyeonggi Province -- the country's two biggest constituencies.
The DPK was also set to expand its territory to Busan, Ulsan and South Gyeongsang Province, where the conservative Liberty Korea Party dominated in the past, according to the exit poll.
Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, a heavyweight in the governing party, was seen clinching his third four-year term. The exit poll had him garnering 55.9% of the vote to 21.2% for LKP candidate Kim Moon-soo.
Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung of the DPK was also ahead in the Gyeonggi governor race with 59.3% of vote, despite allegations of an affair with an actress. He is on the cusp of upsetting incumbent Gov. Nam Kyung-pil of the LKP, who was at 33.6% in the exit poll.
Voting closed at 6 p.m. Official results are expected to start coming in late Wednesday night or early Thursday morning.
Experts say the DPK's strong showing is largely thanks to Moon's policy of engaging North Korea.
"President Moon has pushed for better relations with the Kim Jong Un regime since his election," said Ramon Pacheco Pardo, a senior lecturer in international relations at King's College London. "The recent inter-Korean summit and the meeting between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump are vindication of this approach."
The academic noted that South Korea's liberals have been advocating engagement for decades and now have the support of over 70% of the population. "South Koreans believe that it is working," he said, "following almost 10 years of conservative rule during which inter-Korean relations deteriorated."
Even so, the Trump-Kim summit did create some complications for Moon and his party.
"We will be stopping the war games, which will save us a tremendous amount of money," Trump said in a solo news conference after the meeting, referring to military exercises conducted with South Korea. "Plus, I think it's very provocative."
Observers say Trump's move to halt the drills is likely stirring considerable concern in South Korea and Japan, where the exercises are widely seen as critical for security.
"President Moon Jae-in and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will insist on having a say in how Trump's pledge to halt military exercises is operationalized," said Scott Seaman, a director at Eurasia Group. "Easing fears in Seoul and Tokyo that it will degrade their own defense preparedness and erode their alliances with the U.S. will be challenging."