The Blue House Chronicles: Politics News from the Korean Peninsula, June 15

Wednesday’s local elections were something of a political earthquake. There’s no other way to describe it—the conservatives got crushed.

On paper, the results don’t add much power to the presidential Blue House. But they do reflect the government’s popularity—not to mention the electorate’s overall satisfaction with the outcome of the Singapore summit.

Since Tuesday, many foreign media outlets and pundits have been unsparing in their criticism of the joint statement from Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump. But many South Koreans—apart from the beleaguered conservatives—greeted the summit and the joint statement with relief.

Welcome to the June 15 edition of the Blue House Chronicles, Korea Exposé’s new politics newsletter. A reminder: you can sign up to receive the Blue House Chronicles here. And we’d always love to hear from you as we evolve this newsletter. Drop us a line with any suggestions, thoughts, or leaks: editor@koreaexpose.com.

 

1. The election scorecard

The ruling Democratic Party won 14 out of 17 key regional contests for mayoralty and governorship, 151 out of 226 local administrative posts, and 11 out of 12 vacant seats in the National Assembly.

The main opposition Liberty Korea Party won 2 out of 17 key regional contests for mayoralty and governorship, 53 out of 226 local administrative posts, and just 1 out of 12 vacant seats in the National Assembly.

 

2. From the horse’s mouth: Liberty Korea Party leader Hong Joon-pyo

“We have been crushed. The entire country has been handed over.” (Via Hong Joon-pyo’s Facebook page)

 

3. Is this the end of the Liberty Korea Party?

This party (in its previous incarnation) once enjoyed a grip on power for nine consecutive years. They survived the downfall of president Park Geun-hye. But they might not be able to survive this. This was the worst electoral showing for South Korea’s flagship conservative party since…well, as far as anyone can remember.

The party hasn’t had a coherent policy platform since Moon Jae-in took power as president. It has become known mainly for opposing inter-Korean cooperation, the inter-Korean summits, the DPRK-U.S. summit in Singapore, etc., etc. You get the idea.

The party leader Hong Joon-pyo, famous for his verbal gaffes, took responsibility for the defeat by stepping down on June 14. True to form, he managed to offend some even while announcing his resignation, by saying that “the entire country has been handed over.” That might sound innocuous in English, but in Korean it echoed Hong’s familiar line of attack on the government: that it’s pro-North Korea and plotting to hand over the country to Pyongyang.

 

4. Speaking of North Korea…

There has been an outpouring of think pieces in the U.S. media about how the Singapore summit served to benefit only North Korea and China at the expense of the U.S. and South Korea. Many outlets have focused on Trump’s statement that joint military exercises with South Korea were being suspended given their “provocative nature”, and suggesting this implies Trump has no regard for an ally.

(For example, the Washington Post reported: “Seoul has expressed concern over Trump’s agreement, mentioned in his news conference, to cancel what he called ‘provocative’ and ‘expensive’ joint military exercises with South Korea.”)

The Blue House has given no public sign of disapproval. Indeed, it declared, “The June 12 Sentosa Agreement will be recorded as a historic event that has helped break down the last remaining Cold War legacy on earth.”

About Trump’s announcement that joint military exercises will be suspended, Defense Minister Song Young-moo reportedly told his U.S. counterpart James Mattis via phone on June 14:

“President Moon Jae-in said, if North Korea sincerely carries out denuclearization measures and earnest dialogue for the sake of reducing hostility continues between the two Koreas and between North Korea and the U.S., then there has to be a flexible change to the way military pressure is applied on North Korea, pursuant to the spirit of mutual trust-building as agreed in the Panmunjom Declaration. There also has to be a careful review of the ROK-US joint military exercises.” (Via Yonhap)

On a side note: That same day the two Koreas agreed to reopen military communication channels on the east and west coasts.

 

5. Moon shows no sign of setting

Many observers believe that the public’s overwhelming support for inter-Korean engagement has sustained President Moon’s extraordinarily high approval ratings for weeks and led to his party’s recent electoral victory. In an Apr. 30 survey, 94 percent said the first inter-Korean summit on April 27 had “yielded results.” In the latest survey, conducted by Gallup Korea on June 14, Moon’s approval rating was measured at some 79 percent, and 66 percent said the DPRK-U.S. summit was a success.

 

Cover image: Liberty Korea Party leader Hong Joon-pyo stepped down from his post on June 14. (Source: AP)

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