Honam region in southwestern Korea has long been a progressive, anti-establishment stronghold. It was the site of the 1980 Gwangju Uprising, the birthplace of democracy activist Kim Dae-jung, and a a region that reliably returns almost all of its 28 seats to liberals and progressives.
But if conservatives are dead on arrival in Honam, which includes the two Jeolla provinces and the metropolitan city of Gwangju, that doesn’t mean the mainstream Democratic party always does well there. In 2016, the Democrats only won 2 seats in North Jeolla, as the newly-formed People’s Party won 7.
Now the Democratic Party looks to come storming back and win many of the seats previously held by the People’s Party. New survey results of half of North Jeolla’s districts published by the Jeonbuk Daily show the Democratic nominee leading in four of those. The only seat an independent was leading was Namwon city, where Lee Yong-ho leads Lee Gang-rae 45.2% to 42.9%.
The Democrats look poised to flip three of the seats surveyed from independent and minor party control to Democratic control. In Gimje city, birthplace of Party for People’s Livelihoods co-president Yu Sung-yup, Democratic Party nominee Yoon Jun-byeong leads Yu by 32 points. Yu’s huge deficit is particularly surprising considering that he won the seat by 24 points in 2016.
The Democratic Party also has a commanding lead in Jeonju A and B in separate polls. In Jeonju A, the Democratic nominee Kim Yoon-deok is leading the incumbent, Kim Gwang-su, 66.8% to 9.7%.
Jeonju B was the only seat in North Jeolla that the conservative LKP/UFP won in 2016. This time around, Democratic nominee Kim Yoon-deok is polling at 59.6%, while the rest of the candidates are all under 20%. The incumbent, Jeong Yoon-cheon, is not running for reelection, as he is on the UFP’s party list for a proportional seat instead.
One problem the independent candidates faced is that their party collapsed two years after they were first elected. The People’s Party, founded by former Democratic Party leader Ahn Cheol-soo as a platform to reform government and support his future presidential run, was wildly successful, particular in Honam. In 2018, in order to expand its reach, the party merged with the reformist conservative Bareun Party to form the Bareunmirae Party. Already that merger created dissent among the progressive wing of the People’s Party, causing 16 of its members to leave and form the Party for Democracy and Peace. The Party for Democracy and Peace itself merged into the Party for People’s Livelihoods in February 2020.
Of the 7 lawmakers from North Jeolla North who originally won seats on the People’s Party ticket, 3 are running on the Party for People’s Livelihoods in 2020, and 4 are running as independents.
Korean Election Blog analyst and American University Adjunct Professor Jong Eun Lee, said, “The people of of North Jeolla want to support Moon Jae-in and his prime minister Lee Nak-won and strengthen his presidential prospects.”
Lee Nak-won, who is running in the flagship Jongno district, was born in South Jeolla province and is seen as a possible successor to Moon in 2022.