Progressive candidate Cho Hee-yeon was elected chief of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education on Wednesday, comfortably beating conservative rivals Moon Yong-rin and Koh Seung-duk.
Progressive candidates also made an impressive showing in other parts of the country, partly because the conservative camp often failed to agree on a single candidate. As of early Thursday, in 13 out of 17 regions progressive candidates are certain to win the post.
Cho in a press conference on Thursday said, "The result shows that there is a nationwide consensus that Korean education needs changes in the aftermath of the ferry disaster. The current education system is no longer sustainable. People want a new education paradigm."
A sociologist and civil activist, Cho is close to Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, with whom he worked in the nonprofit watchdog People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy.
Although Cho is well known in liberal academia and the civil-society movement, he is still an obscure figure for the wider public. He struggled to boost his popularity and consistently came third in polls before the election.
But then, with just three days remaining, leading candidate Koh Seung-duk's estranged daughter dropped a bombshell with a plea to the citizens of Seoul on Facebook, claiming Koh is unfit for the post because he neglected his own children from his first marriage.
Cho's own sons campaigned in support of their father.
Born in Jeongeup, North Jeolla Province in 1956, Cho is married to a middle-school teacher. His two sons graduated from elite foreign-language high schools and are students at prestigious universities in Seoul.