Oh Se-hoon Wins Seoul Mayoral Election

SEOUL — In his last year in office, President Moon Jae-in of South Korea has seen his approval ratings in a tailspin. His trademark North Korea diplomacy remains in tatters. Citizens are fuming over his ​repeatedly ​botched attempts to arrest soaring housing prices.

And on Wednesday, voters in South Korea’s two biggest cities dealt another crushing blow to the beleaguered leader.

Mr. Moon’s Democratic Party lost the mayoral elections in Seoul and Busan to the conservative opposition, the People Power Party. Critics are calling the results of the two by-elections a referendum on Mr. Moon and his government.

“The people vented their anger at the Moon government through these elections,” said Kim Chong-in, head of the People Power Party, referring to large margins by which its candidates won.​

policy of engagement toward North Korea.

Wednesday’s mayoral elections showed that the Democratic Party faces steep challenges as voters once loyal to Mr. Moon — especially those in their 20s and 30s — abandon it in droves.

Oh Se-hoon, the People Power Party candidate, won the race in Seoul, the capital city ​of 10 million people. He routed Park Young-sun, the Democratic Party candidate and a former member of Mr. Moon’s cabinet, by more than 18 percentage points, according to voting results announced by the National Election Commission.

The Seoul mayor is considered South Korea’s second-most powerful elected official after the president.

died by suicide last year following accusations of sexual harassment. The former mayor of Busan, Oh Keo-don, stepped down ​last year ​amid accusations of sexual misconduct from multiple female ​subordinates.

The former mayors were both members of ​Mr. Moon’s Democratic Party and the president’s close allies. Their downfall ​weakened the moral standing of Mr. Moon’s progressive camp, which ​has cast itself as a ​clean, ​transparent​ and equality-minded alternative to ​its conservative opponents. Mr. Moon’s two immediate predecessors — Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak — were both conservatives and are now in prison following convictions on corruption charges.

Mr. Moon was elected ​in 2017, ​filling the power vacuum created by Ms. Park’s impeachment. As a former human rights lawyer, he enthralled the nation by promising a “fair and just” society. He ​vehemently criticized an entrenched ​culture of privilege and corruption ​that he said had taken root while conservatives were in power, ​and vowed to create a level playing field for young voters who have grown weary of dwindling job opportunities and an ever-expanding income gap.

Mr. Moon spent much of his first two years in power struggling to quell escalating tension between North Korea and the United States, successfully mediating diplomacy between the two countries. He shifted more of his attention to domestic issues after the two summit meetings between North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, and President Donald J. Trump failed to produce a deal on nuclear disarmament or the easing of tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

But things quickly turned sour on the home front ​as well.

In 2019, huge outdoor rallies erupted ​over accusations of forgery and preferential treatment in college and internship applications​ surrounding the daughter of Cho Kuk, Mr. Moon’s former justice minister and one of his closest allies.

The scandal flew in the face of Mr. Moon’s election promise of creating “a world without privilege,” and prompted outrage against the “gold-spoon” children of the elite, who ​glided into top-flight universities and cushy jobs while their “dirt-spoon” peers struggled to make ends meet in South Korea’s hobbled economy.

won by a landslide in parliamentary elections last year as Mr. Moon leveraged his surging popularity around South Korea’s largely successful battle against the coronavirus. But Mr. Moon’s virus campaign has lost its luster.

In recent months, South Koreans have grown frustrated with prolonged social-distancing restrictions, a distressed economy and the government’s failure to provide vaccines fast enough. On Wednesday, the government reported 668 new coronavirus infections, the highest one-day increase in three months.

Mr. Moon’s most devastating setback came last month when officials at the Korea Land and Housing Corporation — the state developer — were accused of using privileged insider information to cash in on government housing development programs. Kim Sang-jo, Mr. Moon’s chief economic policy adviser, stepped down last month when it was revealed that his family had significantly raised the rent on an apartment in Seoul just days before the government imposed a cap on rent increases.

“People had hoped that even if they were incompetent, the Moon government would at least be ethically superior to their conservative rivals,” said Ahn Byong-jin, a political scientist at Kyung Hee University in Seoul. “What we see in the election results is the people’s long-accumulated discontent over the ‘naeronambul’ behavior of the Moon government exploding. Moon has now become a lame duck president.”

The real-estate scandal dominated the campaign leading up to Wednesday’s election. Opposition candidates called Mr. Moon’s government a “den of thieves.” Mr. Moon’s Democratic Party called Mr. Oh, the new mayor in Seoul, an incorrigible “liar.”

resigned as Seoul mayor in 2011 after his campaign to end free lunches for all schoolchildren failed to win enough support.

Pre-election surveys this month showed that voters who planned to vote for Mr. Oh would do so not because they considered him morally superior to his Democratic Party rival. Instead, it was because they wanted to “pass judgment on the Moon Jae-in government.”

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Are Democrats Friends with Big Business Now?

Still, statements by companies about their social priorities deserve a healthy dose of skepticism.

Indeed, some of the same companies taking part in the stampede of statements critiquing voting laws, like Facebook, Google and AT&T, also recently donated money to the Republican State Leadership Committee, a group that supports many of the voting initiatives. Judd Legum, a journalist, pointed out this hypocrisy in his Popular Information newsletter, noting that Republicans have introduced bills to restrict voting in 47 states.

In the case of businesses like Coca-Cola and Delta, their more forceful, specific statements against the voting law in Georgia came only after the bill passed and 72 senior Black executives had spoken out, giving them cover.

And statements — even moving an All-Star Game — are not expensive. Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, made this point in a letter to M.L.B.’s commissioner, Rob Manfred, calling its move “an easy way to signal virtues without significant financial fallout.”

Mr. Rubio also told Mr. Manfred, “I am under no illusion you intend to resign as a member from Augusta National Golf Club,” which is in Georgia. “To do so would require a personal sacrifice, as opposed to the woke corporate virtue signaling of moving the All-Star Game from Atlanta.”

The decision to move the game will impact “countless small and minority-owned businesses in and around Atlanta,” Mr. Rubio wrote.

On that last point Mr. Rubio has an ally of sorts in Stacey Abrams, the Democratic organizer in Georgia, but not because they agree on the underlying issue. Ms. Abrams said: “I am disappointed that the M.L.B. is relocating the All-Star Game; however, I commend the players, owners and league commissioner for speaking out. I urge others in positions of leadership to do so as well.”

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Business Has Only One Political Party: Profit

Still, statements by companies about their social priorities deserve a healthy dose of skepticism.

Indeed, some of the same companies taking part in the stampede of statements critiquing voting laws, like Facebook, Google, and AT&T, also recently donated money to the Republican State Leadership Committee, a group that supports many of the voting initiatives. Judd Legum, a journalist, pointed out this hypocrisy in his Popular Information newsletter, noting that Republican state lawmakers have introduced bills to restrict voting in 47 states.

In the case of businesses like Coca-Cola and Delta, their more forceful, specific statements against the voting law in Georgia came only after the bill passed and 72 senior Black executives had spoken out, giving them cover.

And statements — even moving an All-Star Game — are not expensive. Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, made this point in a letter to M.L.B.’s commissioner, Robert Manfred, calling its move “an easy way to signal virtues without significant financial fallout.”

Mr. Rubio also told Mr. Manfred, “I am under no illusion you intend to resign as a member from Augusta National Golf Club,” which is based in Georgia. “To do so would require a personal sacrifice, as opposed to the woke corporate virtue signaling of moving the All-Star Game from Atlanta.”

The decision to move the game will impact “countless small and minority owned businesses in and around Atlanta,” Mr. Rubio wrote.

On that last point Mr. Rubio has an ally of sorts in Stacey Abrams, the Democratic organizer in Georgia, but not because they agree on the underlying issue. Ms. Abrams said, “I am disappointed that the M.L.B. is relocating the All-Star game; however I commend the players, owners and League commissioner for speaking out. I urge others in positions of leadership to do so as well.”

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Delta and Coca-Cola face backlash from Republicans after opposing Georgia voting law.

For two weeks, Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola had been under pressure from activists and Black executives who wanted the companies to publicly oppose a new law in Georgia that makes it harder for people to vote. On Wednesday, six days after the law was passed, both companies stated their “crystal clear” opposition to it.

Now Republicans are mad at the companies for speaking out. Hours after the companies made their statements, Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, took aim at Ed Bastian, the chief executive of Delta, accusing him of spreading “the same false attacks being repeated by partisan activists.” And Republicans in the Georgia state legislature floated the idea of increasing taxes on Delta as retribution.

On Thursday, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida posted a video in which he called Delta and Coca-Cola “woke corporate hypocrites.” Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi said Coca-Cola was “caving to the ‘woke’ left.” And Stephen Miller, an adviser to former President Donald J. Trump, said on Twitter, “Unelected, multinational corporations are now openly attacking sovereign U.S. states & the right of their citizens to secure their own elections. This is a corporate ambush on Democracy.”

It was another illustration of just how fraught it is for big companies to wade in to partisan politics, where any support for the left draws the ire of the right, and vice versa.

Other big Georgia companies have managed to stay on the sidelines. UPS, which is based in Atlanta, also refrained from criticizing the new law before it was passed. On Thursday, the company said it “believes that voting laws and legislation should make it easier, not harder, for Americans to exercise their right to vote.” It made no mention of the law.

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Israel Has Its 4th National Election in 2 Years. Here’s Why.

JERUSALEM — Israelis head to the polls on Tuesday for the fourth time in two years, hoping to break a seemingly endless cycle of elections and a political deadlock that has left the country without a national budget during a pandemic.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hopes Israel’s world-leading vaccination program, which has helped the country emerge in recent days into something approaching normality, will give him and his right-wing allies an edge and the stable majority that proved elusive in three earlier rounds of elections.

But Mr. Netanyahu, prime minister since 2009, is running for re-election while standing trial on corruption charges — a dynamic that opposition parties hope will prompt voters to finally push him out of office.

In reality, though, polls show that neither bloc has a clear route to a majority, leaving many Israelis bracing for another inconclusive result, and a possible fifth election later in the year.

Parliament to dissolve, forcing a new election, though for now the government remains in place.

than by whether they are for or against Mr. Netanyahu.

a key constituency in this election campaign.

In a sign of how the political map has changed, two of Mr. Netanyahu’s principal challengers in this election cycle are also right-wingers. Gideon Saar is a former interior minister for Mr. Netanyahu’s party and Naftali Bennett is Mr. Netanyahu’s former chief of staff.

The third leading challenger is Yair Lapid, a centrist former broadcast journalist whose party is mounting the strongest challenge to Mr. Netanyahu.

Mr. Gantz is no longer considered a viable threat to the prime minister. Polls suggest his party may even fail to win a seat, largely because of anger among his former supporters over his decision to form a unity government with Mr. Netanyahu in the first place, an arrangement he had promised not to join.

The Parliament, known in Hebrew as the Knesset, has 120 seats that are allocated on a proportional basis to parties that win more than 3.25 percent of the vote.

The system almost guarantees that no single party will win an outright majority, often giving tiny parties big influence in the deal-making that forms coalitions. The system allows for a broad range of voices in Parliament but forming stable coalitions under it is difficult.

It could take weeks or possibly months for a new government to be formed — if one can be formed — and at any point in the process, a majority of the Knesset could vote to dissolve again, forcing yet another election.

In the days after the election, Reuven Rivlin, Israel’s president, will give one lawmaker four weeks to try to form a coalition. He usually gives that mandate to the leader of the party that won the highest number of seats, which is likely to be Mr. Netanyahu. But he could grant it to another lawmaker, like Mr. Lapid, who he believes has a better chance at pulling together a viable coalition.

If that lawmaker’s efforts break down, the president can give a second candidate another four weeks to form a government. If that process also stutters, Parliament itself can nominate a third candidate to give it a go. And if he or she fails, Parliament dissolves and another election is called.

In the meantime, Mr. Netanyahu will remain caretaker prime minister. If somehow the deadlock continues until November, Mr. Gantz might still succeed him. The power-sharing deal the pair agreed to last April was enshrined into Israeli law, and stipulated that Mr. Gantz would become prime minister in November 2021.

In recent weeks, Israel has sent children back to school, reopened restaurants for in-house dining and allowed vaccinated people to attend concerts and theater performances.

Mr. Netanyahu hopes the success of Israel’s vaccine rollout, which has given a majority of Israelis at least one dose, will help propel him to victory.

But his pandemic record may also cost him. Some voters believe he politicized certain key decisions — for instance, capping some fines for flouting antivirus regulations at levels much lower than public health experts recommended.

Critics perceived this as a sop to ultra-Orthodox Israelis, some of whom flouted coronavirus restrictions on mass gatherings. Mr. Netanyahu will need the support of two ultra-Orthodox parties to remain in office after the election.

Voting by mail is not available in Israel. To prevent the spread of the virus, special polling stations are being set up for quarantined people and for Covid-19 patients.

No one is ruling it out. Mr. Netanyahu’s party, Likud, is predicted to emerge as the largest party, with around 30 seats. But his allies may not win enough seats to give him a majority of 61.

And though current polling suggests the opposition parties will collectively win more than 61 seats, it’s unclear whether their profound ideological differences will allow them to come together.

The key player could be Mr. Bennett. Though he wants to replace Mr. Netanyahu, he has also not ruled out joining his government.

Patrick Kingsley and Isabel Kershner contributed reporting.

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Election Year in Germany Kicks Off With Voting in Two States

BERLIN — Voters in two southwestern German states are kicking off an election year on Sunday that could change the course of Europe’s largest economy after 16 years under the leadership of Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will be stepping down after a new government is sworn in.

The elections in the states of Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate are the first in a year that will see voting for new legislators in four more states, and for the country’s Parliament, which will be elected in September.

Sunday’s voting is taking place after largely muted election campaigns that were overshadowed by the threat of the coronavirus and by lockdowns. While neither race will serve as a clear bellwether for the fall election, the outcomes could indicate how voters are feeling about the two leading parties, the conservatives and the Greens, and help focus the contest for Ms. Merkel’s replacement.

“It is an unbelievably exciting election year,” said Thorsten Faas, a professor of political science at Berlin’s Free University. “A lot is still open, creating the possibility for movement in various directions.”

Armin Laschet, who took who took over as leader of the Christian Democratic Union in January.

Normally the party would put forward its leader as the candidate in the race for the chancellor, but Mr. Laschet has so far proved to be less popular with the German public than the governor of Bavaria, Markus Söder, who could instead be tapped as the conservative candidate.

Mr. Söder, who is also the head of the Bavaria-only Christian Social Union, has raised his profile as someone who takes tough, decisive action to halt the spread of the pandemic in his state, closing the border to Austria and sending vaccines to help the beleaguered Czech Republic.

Mr. Laschet has said the conservatives will decide in the coming months whether the head of the Christian Democratic Union or the head of the Christian Social Union will run in September as the conservative bloc’s candidate for chancellor. But if the Christian Democrats take a beating in Sunday’s elections, they might decide faster.

Whoever is selected will face the Greens’ candidate, who has yet to be named, and Germany’s finance minister, Olaf Scholz, who is running for the Social Democrats.

Support for the Greens has nearly doubled since the election in 2017, making them the second strongest party heading into the national election, after the conservatives and ahead of the Social Democrats.

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Can France’s Far Right Win Over the ‘Beavers’? One Mayor Shows How

Mas Llaro had always voted for the mainstream right.

But disillusioned and weary of the status quo, the Talaus, like many others, voted for the first time for the far right last year, drawn by Mr. Aliot’s emphasis on cleanliness and crime, saying their home had been broken into twice.

Though satisfied with the mayor’s performance, Mr. Talau said he would still join the dam against the far right in next year’s presidential contest and hold his nose to vote for Mr. Macron. But Ms. Talau was now considering casting a ballot for Ms. Le Pen.

“She’s put water in her wine,” Ms. Talau said, adding that Mr. Macron was not “tough enough.”

Mr. Aliot’s opponent in 2014 and 2020, a center-right politician named Jean-Marc Pujol, had pressed further to the right in an unsuccessful move to fend off the far right. He increased the number of police officers, giving Perpignan the highest number per capita of any large city in France, according to government data.

Even so, many of his core supporters appeared to trust the far right more on crime and still defected, while many left-leaning beavers complained that they had been ignored and refused to take part in dam-building again, said Agnès Langevine, who represented the Greens and the Socialists in the 2020 mayoral election.

“And they told us, ‘In 2022, if it’s between Macron and Le Pen, I won’t do it again,’ ” she added.

Mr. Lebourg, the political scientist, said that Mr. Aliot had also won over conservative, upper-income voters by adopting a mainstream economic message — the same strategy adopted by Ms. Le Pen.

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