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Key conservative wins defy exit poll predictions

Lee Jun-seok, outspoken critic of Yoon, makes dramatic entry to Assembly after tight-race

By Choi Jeong-yoon

Published : April 11, 2024 - 15:54

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Lee Jun-seok, candidate for the New Refom Party running for the Hwaseong-B District in Gyeonggi Province, laughs after his victory in the constituency seemed to be confirmed on Thursday. (Yonhap) Lee Jun-seok, candidate for the New Refom Party running for the Hwaseong-B District in Gyeonggi Province, laughs after his victory in the constituency seemed to be confirmed on Thursday. (Yonhap)

The atmosphere of election camps of the candidates vying for the 300-member seats in the National Assembly shifted minute by minute as the votes were counted throughout Wednesday night and into Thursday morning.

Ferocious election battlefields, especially, where the results were hard to predict ended with major cliffhangers, as the victories predicted from the exit polls sponsored by South Korea’s major TV stations were disproven at the last minute.

Lee Jun-seok, leader of the New Reform Party and former chair of the conservative ruling People Power Party, won his first-ever parliamentary seat in the general elections, according to the National Election Commission.

Fighting in the race for the Hwaseong-B District in Gyeonggi Province, Lee secured victory by a 2.68 percentage point margin over his liberal rival, Democratic Party of Korea candidate Gong Young-woon, winning 42.41 percent of the total votes.

Initially behind Kong in the exit poll results, Lee outstripped the opponent after more than 76 percent of the ballots were counted. Young male voters in their 20s to 40s form his key political base.

Lee, the youngest-ever leader of the People Power Party, parted ways with the party in December last year after a yearslong feud with President Yoon Suk Yeol and the mainstream faction of loyalists to the Yoon administration. Lee had urged the President to seek changes in his way of doing politics.

Lee created the New Reform Party, which he later joined with former Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon who had left the Democratic Party. Lee, however, ran solo after Lee Nak-yon retracted his decision to join him 11 days after the merger, as both failed to come to an agreement on who would lead the party.

This is the first time the former ruling party leader is putting on a gold badge, as he lost elections for a parliamentary seat in 2016, 2018 and 2020 in Seoul's northern district of Nowon.

Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo of the People Power Party also won by a 6.55 percentage point margin over his liberal rival, Democratic Party candidate Lee Kwang-jae, in the Bundang-A District of Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province.

The electoral contest between the two emerged as a significant face-off, as both are prominent figures representing rival political factions, each assuming pivotal roles within their respective campaign organizations.

The People Power Party's Ahn, formerly a software mogul who transitioned into politics, has served three terms as a lawmaker and currently holds the position of district incumbent. He secured victory in the by-election for a parliamentary seat representing the Bundang-A District in June 2022.

Exit poll results were overturned in the Bundang-B District in Seongnam and Seoul's Dongjak-B District.

Conservative People Power Party candidate Na Kyung-won, a judge-turned-politician clinched a victory over Ryu Sam-young, a former police officer representing the liberal Democratic Party, by receiving 54.01 percent of 116,115 votes.

Kim Eun-hye, candidate for People Power Party and former senior press secretary of President Yoon, defeated the incumbent Rep. Kim Byung-wook of the Democratic Party in the Bundang-B District.

The unexpected variance from exit poll projections stems from the significant turnout during early voting, which bypasses traditional survey methods. Notably, the robust engagement of voters in their 60s during early voting served as a pivotal factor, given the concentration of conservative right-wing support within this demographic, analysts observed.