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[April 27 by-elections] Ex-MBC chiefs clash in Gangwon race

Ohm, Choi have much in common in birth place, school, path to politics

This is the second of a three-part series on the April 27 by-election campaigns in three major electoral districts, Bundang-B, Gimhae-B and Gangwon Province. ― Ed.


The northeastern province of Gangwon is the second-largest in the nation, taking up 16.8 percent of the total South Korean territory.

Mention the mountainous province and many think of Seorak Mountain, the neighboring East Sea and potatoes, its representative crop.

Gangwon’s northern border is the DMZ and the province is sensitive to North Korean issues.

It is here where two former heads of the broadcaster MBC are to confront each other in order to win the governor’s race.

The candidates, Ohm Ki-young and Choi Moon-soon, though they differ in political beliefs and tendencies, have much in common in their academic and political resumes.

Both were born in Gangwon Province and graduated from Chunchon High School, Ohm being Choi’s senior by four years.

They also took up their political paths within a year of retiring from the MBC presidency.

Former head of the broadcaster Ohm Ki-young is better known to the public as the main news anchor of News Desk, reputed for his witty remarks on current issues.

Ohm was born in 1951 in Injae, to the east of the province, graduated from Chunchon High School and earned a doctorate in social sciences from Seoul National University.

He joined the network in 1974 as a news reporter but later ascended to anchor, a position he held for more than 10 years.

After serving as the company’s president from 2008-2010, Ohm left broadcasting to enter politics, joining the ruling party last year.

This year’s Gangwon by-election is thus his first political hurdle.

So far, a majority of public opinion polls place Ohm in the lead, particularly among elderly and female voters for his intellectual and gentlemanly image.

His rival is another television expert ― Choi Moon-soon of the main opposition Democratic Party, who was MBC’s head from 2005-2008, just prior to Ohm.

Choi was born in 1956 in Chuncheon, graduated from Chunchon High School and Gangwon National University and received his bachelor’s degree in English Literature at Seoul National University.
Choi Moon-soon, the Gangwon governor candidate of the Democratic Party, greets voters in a traditional marketplace in Hongcheon, Gangwon Province. (Yonhap News)
Choi Moon-soon, the Gangwon governor candidate of the Democratic Party, greets voters in a traditional marketplace in Hongcheon, Gangwon Province. (Yonhap News)

 
Ohm Ki-young, ruling party candidate for Gangwon governor, talks to children at Pyeongchang Elementary School in Gangwon Province. (Yonhap News)
Ohm Ki-young, ruling party candidate for Gangwon governor, talks to children at Pyeongchang Elementary School in Gangwon Province. (Yonhap News)

His position as MBC president was seen as a radical move then as he was a former labor union leader who had even been dismissed once, though later reinstated.

Since joining the DP in 2008, he has held several posts in the party including the vice floor leader position.

In order to win the public’s attention from his star rival and appeal to younger liberal voters in the by-election, Choi has led an offbeat election campaign, including appearances bungee-jumping and riding quad bikes.

Their showdown in their home province has thus drawn public attention, especially when both appeared in the famed MBC radio current news program hosted by Sohn Seok-hee.

Though the former TV men have fought fiercely to win the governorship, they seemed aware of their reputations and thus refrained from using stern words and accusations.

“We should be holding a refined debate as befits former broadcasting leaders,” said Choi to his opponent in a recent television debate program.

Both media experts are making last-minute pitches with the by-election looming next Wednesday.

One of the key variables in their 11th-hour pushes is their physical stamina, as each candidate covers as much as 500 kilometers per day in their campaigns, often walking mountain trails to reach voters in remote areas.

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