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Yoon's conservatives sweep South Korea local elections

New president now has mandate to carry out planned reforms

Lee Jun Seok, center, chairman of South Korea's ruling People Power Party, and others celebrate in Seoul on Wednesday.   © Kyodo

SEOUL -- South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol's People Power Party swept the country's local elections on Wednesday, giving it a mandate to carry out planned reforms.

The governing conservative party won more than two-thirds of key cities and provinces nationwide. The PPP took seven out of eight major cities, including Seoul and Busan, while the opposition Democratic Party only took Gwangju. Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon was reelected with 59.1% of the vote, beating the DP's former leader Song Young-gil by almost 20 percentage points.

At the provincial level, the PPP won five out of nine, taking North and South Gyeongsang, North and South Chungcheong and Gangwon. However, the DP narrowly took Gyeonggi, the most populous province in the country, and also won in North and South Jeolla and Jeju.

The ruling party's landslide comes three months after Yoon won the presidential election by a paper-thin margin against the DP's Lee Jae-myung.

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol speaks during a ceremony in the southeastern port city of Busan on May 31.   © Yonhap/EPA/Jiji

Lee, a former Gyeonggi governor, was elected as a national lawmaker representing the Gyeyang B district in Incheon in a by-election.

"It was like an overtime game of the presidential election. People clearly expressed their will to support the Yoon Suk-yeol government," said Park Sung-min, a senior political analyst and chief of Min Consulting. "The PPP is enjoying the honeymoon period of the new president, while the DP had no edge in candidates."

Yoon expressed his appreciation to voters who backed his party and vowed to revive the economy and tame soaring inflation. "I accept the results of the elections as the people's wish to revive the economy and take care of their lives," the presidential office said in a statement. "The most urgent issue is to revive the vitality of the economy. For this, I will overcome challenges by cooperating with provincial governments."

The DP's leadership team resigned to take responsibility for the loss. Opposition lawmakers had been criticized over recent sexual harassment scandals -- a negative for the local elections.

"I apologize to people who supported us and party members for the loss of the elections," said Yun Ho-jung, co-chair of the party.

Voter turnout was only 50.9%, the lowest in 20 years.

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