The results of Wednesday's local elections showed voters divided between those who rallied around embattled President Park Geun-hye and those who supported the main opposition party to punish the government for its ineptitude in handling the April 16 ferry disaster.
Before the ferry accident, Saenuri seemed poised for a sweeping victory. Park enjoyed more than 60 percent approval, while the opposition camp was fumbling to gain a footing. But everything changed after the Sewol sank, killing hundreds of trapped passengers.
The government's botched rescue and search attempts exposed the problems inherent in the country’s emergency system, and public anger was directed at Cheong Wa Dae for failing to properly oversee the search and rescue operation.
Opinion polls after the disaster showed support for Saenuri candidates on a steep slide. As election day approached, the opposition camp urged voters to use their ballots to punish the government. Considering the gravity of the situation, the ruling camp appeared destined for defeat.
But voters did not flock to the opposition camp either. The tight races in Gyeonggi Province and Incheon as well as Gangwon and Chungcheong provinces show that the public was not willing to take the opposition party's accusations at face value.
The election was a gauge of public sentiments toward Park, who is in the second year of her five-year term, suggesting that many voters want to give her another chance.
The opposition party may face criticism from within its own ranks for failing to secure a sweeping win. Park Sang-heon, a political commentator, said, "The election should have been an easy win for the opposition. But it was a draw, demonstrating the weak leadership of the opposition camp."
Pundits said the results expose the weaknesses of both the ruling and opposition parties.