They seemed to have it in the bag. With the sinking of a South Korean warship, North Korea had again become public enemy No. 1. Polls revealed overall support for how South Korean President Lee Myung-bak had handled the crisis, and high voting rates among older conservatives meant this group were set to tip the balance in favour of his Grand National Party.
But after a sleepless night on Wednesday during which votes from South Korea’s local elections were being counted, the GNP went to bed Thursday distraught and confused after taking a surprising beating by rival Democratic Party candidates in two swing provinces and in the Incheon mayoral race (a symbolic loss, as the Cheonan corvette was allegedly torpedoed on March 26 in the port city’s jurisdiction).
So what happened? According to analysts, young voters weren’t as apathetic as the pollsters thought.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
‘One very interesting part of the election was that young people used Twitter,’ to encourage their peers to go vote, says Kang Won-taek, an expert on domestic politics at Soongsil University. ‘This is a very rare phenomenon in this country. Many people think [younger people] are apolitical in comparison with people who were their age in the 1980s or 90s.’
‘In this election they were awakened,’ he adds.
Throughout the day Wednesday, hundreds of Twitter users ‘re-tweeted’ links to smart phone applications delivering real-time election results.
As of noon, the turnout was lower than the 2006 local elections, the media reported, but the rate was boosted in the afternoon largely by voters in their 20s and early 30s. The final turnout rate was 54.5 percent of eligible voters, the highest in 15 years, with the GNP taking six seats compared with the DP’s seven. (The three remaining seats were taken by two independents and a minor opposition party candidate).
In Seoul, people in those age groups voted overwhelmingly for DP candidate Han Myung-sook—56.7 percent and 64.2 percent, respectively—according an exit poll by public broadcaster KBS. Han, a former prime minister, lost by a razor-thin margin to a humbled Oh Se-hoon, the GNP incumbent.
Riding on the wind
During the campaign, analysts and the media described competing ‘winds’ as the driving forces in the election: a ‘North Wind’ in support of hard-line steps against North Korea pushed by the GNP, and a ‘Roh Wind,’ rallying for the late President Roh Moo-Hyun’s opposition party almost exactly a year since his suicide.