Ship Incident Might Swing Local Elections
About 4,000 local government positions will be filled in elections on June 2
People across the nation go to the polls on June 2 in local elections in which some 4,000 positions for governors, mayors, regional education superintendents and provincial councilors are at stake.
Some political pundits predict that chances are high that the upcoming local elections might change the ruling party vs. opposition party confrontation into a ¡°proxy war¡± of President Lee Myung-bak vs. the late President Roh Moo-hyun, as ex-prime minister Han Myeong-sook and former health minister Rhyu Si-min, confidants of the late president, were awarded the single tickets of the main opposition Democratic Party (DP) to run for Seoul mayor and Gyeonggi Province governor, respectively. The proxy war syndrome might not only swing the outcomes of the local elections¡¯ Big Three battlegrounds ¡ª Seoul, Gyeonggi Province and Incheon ¡ª but also have an impact on the results of the elections in other parts of the nation, they said.
The ruling Grand National Party (GNP) has downgraded the moves by pro-late President Roh groups, however. In reality, the GNP is apparently paying keen attention to the groups¡¯ actions as the opposition DP is striving to make the most of the late president Roh¡¯s halo to turn the tide in disfavor of itself.
The DP has finalized the candidates for the heads of metropolitan governments to run for the local elections on its ticket, including Rhyu, who won in the in-house primary on May 13. In particular, the electoral districts in the Seoul metropolitan area show signs of an immediate former vs. current government proxy war.
The GNP has fielded nine incumbent mayors and governors running for local elections on its ticket, including Seoul Mayer Oh Se-hoon, Gyeonggi Gov. Kim Moon-soo and Incheon Mayor Ahn Sang-soo. Chung Yong-hwa, the GNP¡¯s candidate for Gwangju Mayor; former agriculture minister Chung Woon-chun, a candidate for Jeollabuk-do governor; Kim Dae-sik, a candidate for Jeollanam-do governor; and Lee Dal-gon, a candidate for Gyeongsangnam-do governor, are also the members of the President Lee faction of the ruling party.
On the other hand, the late president Roh¡¯s followers have made a splash in the primary competitions for local elections in the opposition circles, including the DP. Among them are DP candidates Ahn Hee-jung and Lee Kwang-je, who are running for Chungcheongnam-do governor and Gangwon-do governor, respectively. Ahn and Lee were cadets of the late president Roh¡¯s so-called 386 faction. Ex-public administration minister Kim Doo-kwan, known as the late president Roh¡¯s so-called other self, is running for Gyeongsangnam-do governor. DP candidate Kim Jung-gil, running for Busan mayor, was also politically in line with the late ex-president Roh, who put up opposition against Kim Young-sam¡¯s agreement to merge three political parties.
Local elections are normally considered a kind of a mid-term evaluation of the incumbent government. The ex-president Kim Dae-jung¡¯s ¡°People¡¯s¡± government and the former president Roh Moo-hyun government suffered a humiliating setback in local elections held in 2002 and 2006, respectively, which were blamed for their unhappy execution of administration affairs. Things seem to be different in the current local elections, however.
The sinking of the South Korean Navy ship Cheonan, suspected to be the work of North Korea, apparently plays a part as conservative voters tend to muster support for the government. President Lee¡¯s job approval rating is hovering at a higher range of mid-40 percent and high-40 percent to low-50 percent. The ruling party sees its approval rating riding high compared to the opposition DP. The five opposition parties initially proposed an alliance on judging against the ruling government, but are struggling with a failure to iron out their differences.
With 19 days remaining until the local elections, the political landscape seems to be changing, albeit a little, as Rhyu was selected as the DP¡¯s candidate for Gyeonggi Province governor. The DP and other opposition parties express the hope that the upcoming May 23 first anniversary of the death of the late president Roh will turn the tide in its favor ¡ª an opportunity to muster the full support of Roh¡¯s followers. Roh, who was widely backed by liberal voters, leaped to his death last year while undergoing an investigation on charges of taking bribes while in office.
Opposition parties maintain that they could win in many local elections to make up for the last presidential and general elections in which they suffered humiliating defeats. They see their wins in the upcoming elections as a chance to pave the way toward seizing power in the next presidential and general elections.
DP Chairman Chung Se-kyun said, ¡°We¡¯re devoting ourselves to joining forces in the opposition party circles instead of separating so that DP candidate Rhyu can win.¡±
Apparently nervous of candidate Rhyu¡¯s possible swing, the ruling party is criticizing the DP, saying that the late Roh¡¯s followers were those trying to return to the failed past government. GNP Chairman Chung Mong-joon said the ruling party should achieve a victory against forces swimming against the current of the times who wish to return to the past. GNP Floor Leader Kim Moo-sung said the opposition were forces who mishandled state affairs during their 10-year reign, particularly in the economic and security perspectives.
The biggest battleground of the local elections is a competition for Seoul mayor in which GNP candidate Oh, DP candidate Han, and three other candidates are vying in a confrontation structure of two strong and three weak candidates.
A recent poll showed that Oh, seeking reelection, is 12 to 13 points ahead of Han, aspiring to become the first woman to be elected head of the Seoul Metropolitan Government. The survey indicated undecided voters accounted for 7 to 8 percent. As a result, the voting turnout of the election is likely to be an essential factor in determining who will be the winner, political observers said.
GNP candidate Kim is going ahead of the DP¡¯s Rhyu, as the former gained an estimated 40 percent support rating in a recent survey. The differences between the two candidates were less than 10 points, surveys show. It remains to be seen how much more momentum Rhyu could gain in the election.
The election for Busan mayor has the incumbent Mayor Hur Nam-sik of the GNP seeking reelection. Hur, the front-runner with a 52.3 percent approval rate in a poll, is running against the DP¡¯s Kim, who served as public administration minister under the late president Roh government. Kim was a distant second at 29.7 percent in the same survey.
DP candidate Park Jung-young, who is seeking reelection, is vying for the Jeollanam-do governor spot against GNP candidate Kim Dae-sik and two other opposition party candidates. Park, who has run the Jeollanam-do administration for six years, including two years after a by-election, won the in-house primary election by default with competitors giving up their candidacies. GNP candidate Kim, a former university professor, took such positions as a member of the transition team of the 17th president and the secretary general of the National Unification Advisory Council. nw
Ruling Grand National Party candidate Oh Se-hoon seeks reelection as Seoul mayor against opposition Democratic Party candidate Han Myeong-sook, an ex-prime minister, in the June 2 local election.
(left) GNP candidate Kim Moon-soo, also seeking for reelection as Gyonggi governor, competes with ex-health minister Rhyu Si-min, on the DP ticket.
Ahn Sang-soo, seeking reelection for Incheon Mayor
Lee Dal-gon, ex-minister of public administration and security, on a GNP tick for Gyeongsangnam-do governor.
Park Jung-young, a DP candidate for Jeollanam-do governor.
Kim Dae-sik, a GNP candidate for Jeollanam-do governor.