Vote seen as a yardstick for parliamentary, presidential polls in 2012
Rival parties are striving to field powerful candidates to win the crucial April 27 by-elections, regarded as a prelude to the parliamentary and presidential elections slated for next year.
The vote is expected to serve as a political weather vane ahead of the two major elections as it is a nationwide poll to fill at least 26 positions ― three lawmakers, six provincial administrative chiefs and 17 local councilors.
The by-elections, initially thought to be small in scale, have become bigger and more politically significant as the Supreme Court’s rulings last week stripped three more low-level administrative chiefs of their positions for legal violations.
The main opposition Democratic Party is poised to utilize the vote to deliver a “clear judgment” on the Lee Myung-bak administration’s performance while the ruling Grand National Party is seeking to forge a more positive mood for next year’s polls.
The most hotly-contested post is governor of Gangwon Province. The previous chief was forced out after the Supreme Court confirmed that he was guilty of taking kickbacks from a businessman several years ago.
The province had long been a traditional political base for the ruling party. But the GNP suffered a humiliating defeat in the June 2 local elections last year, which showed public sentiment there had shifted in favor of the opposition parties.
Looking to maintain the positive mood for the opposition parties, Rep. Choi Moon-soon of the DP, former MBC president, has expressed his intention to run for the Gangwon governor post.
Striving to win back the hearts of residents there, the GNP plans to involve citizens in the process of selecting its candidate for the province. Former MBC president Eom Ki-young and former Prime Minister Han Seung-soo are being mentioned as possible GNP candidates.
Another fiercely-contested post is for a lawmaker representing the Bundang-eul district in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province.
Democratic Party Chairman Sohn Hak-kyu (fourth from right) and leaders of other opposition parties and progressive civic groups clasp hands, showing solidarity in their efforts to win the upcoming by-elections at the National Assembly last week. (Yonhap News)
Former GNP leader Kang Jae-sup and former GNP lawmaker Park Kye-dong have registered preliminary candidacy with the election watchdog, setting in motion their campaign efforts. Former Prime Minister Chung Un-chan is also being mentioned as a possible candidate.
The DP is agonizing over finding the right candidate for the district. DP leader Sohn Hak-kyu is being regarded as a plausible figure to win the post given his popularity in the region. But he dismissed the possibility of running in the election, arguing that he will focus on supporting the campaigns of other DP candidates.
The Gimhae-eul district in South Gyeongsang Province is also seeing fierce competition between the rival parties.
The DP believes it could win the parliamentary seat representing the district on the back of the still-strong popularity of former President Roh Moo-hyun, who was born and raised there.
The GNP, however, is trying to win the seat in its political stronghold by fielding an influential regional figure ― former governor of South Gyeongsang Province, Kim Tae-ho.
Last year, Kim was nominated as the new prime minister, but withdrew amid bribery allegations. Kim, currently studying in China, is rumored to return home early next month, stoking speculation that he will run in the by-election.
The DP is having trouble finding a high-profile figure for the lawmaker position.
Kim Gyeong-su, secretary-general of Bongha Foundation, who was one of the key aides to the late President Roh, was once considered a competent DP candidate for the district, but he declared earlier this month that he would not run for the election.
For the lawmaker post representing Suncheon, South Jeolla Province, the DP plans to form an alliance of opposition parties to field a single candidate that does not belong to it.
The opposition candidate could come from the Democratic Labor Party or the People Participation Party. Some DP members could also run for the election as independents, apart from their party.
No GNP members have yet registered their preliminary candidacy for the election in what has long been regarded as the DP’s political bastion.
By Song Sang-ho (firstname.lastname@example.org