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Parties pick candidates in tight match areas

Parties confirmed several candidates for the April 27 parliamentary by-elections Monday.

The ruling Grand National Party announced the selection of Kang Jae-sup, the party’s former leader, as its candidate to run in the Bundang-B constituency in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province. Kang will compete against Sohn Hak-kyu, the chairman of the main opposition Democratic Party.

“The party has decided, based on public survey results, to nominate Kang as the candidate,” a party official told reporters.

Kang won 71.2 percent of the votes in a recent opinion survey conducted on 1,600 potential voters in the Bundang-B district, the official said.

The GNP previously underwent disputes concerning the selection of a candidate to run against Sohn, who is also a potential runner in next year’s presidential race.

Though the April 27 by-elections are relatively small, the competition involved is considered important, especially for those who wish to run for the presidency.

In this context, the Bundang by-election is largely expected to be a preview of the presidential contest next year.

Bundang, a relatively affluent region just south of Seoul, has traditionally favored the conservative ruling party, but observers note that this will not necessarily be the case in the by-election.

In a preliminary survey, the support rate for the GNP was slightly ― less than 5 percent ― higher than the DP’s, but the figures may be overturned depending on the participation level of younger voters in the area.

“I feel that the middle class’ public sentiment is undergoing changes,” said Sohn Hak-kyu in a meeting of senior lawmakers on Monday.

“They no longer wish to settle for the status quo and now aspire for this country to change.”

The April race is not just about winning the party an extra seat but about proving that political prejudices may be overcome, the party leader also said.

As challenging as is his task, Sohn is expected to prove his political capacities as a potential presidential candidate should he succeed in winning the votes of Bundang residents.

The two parties’ battle in Bundang will also affect the races in other regions, including Gimhae in South Gyeongsang Province and Gangwon Province.

In the Gimhae-B constituency, former South Gyeongsang Governor Kim Tae-ho was confirmed on Saturday as the GNP candidate, while a matching opposition party candidate is yet to be decided.

Gimhae, together with its surrounding Gyeongsang provinces, has traditionally been conservative, but is also the home of the late liberal President Roh Moo-hyun.

Also, President Lee Myung-bak’s recent cancellation of his campaign pledge to build an international airport in the region sparked up a negative backlash on the GNP.

In Gangwon Province, another area of tight match, Eom Ki-young, former president of the broadcaster MBC, is facing a hard fight against his DP rival Choi Moon-soon for the governor position.

In an attempt to defend a traditional GNP-inclined constituency, the party has dispatched several of its superior lawmakers to Gangwon Province to support its candidate, officials said.

By Bae Hyun-jung (tellme@heraldcorp.com)
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