Park closer to becoming opposition flag bearer; ruling party still searching for candidate
Han Myeong-sook, a former prime minister, said Tuesday that she would not run for Seoul mayor.
“I have decided not to run in the Oct. 26 by-election for Seoul mayor,” Han, who was considered one of the strongest potential liberal candidates, said in a statement read by Rep. Baek Won-woo of the opposition Democratic Party.
Her decision not to run brightened the chances of Park Won-soon becoming the liberals’ torch bearer in their quest to seize control of the capital after nearly a decade of conservative rule.
Park, a lawyer-turned-activist, stepped up preparations for the formal launch of his mayoral bid, resigning last week from the posts he held in civic organizations, including think tank Hope Institute and charity group Beautiful Foundation.
He plans to formally announce his bid in a few days.
Park, 55, emerged as the frontrunner in the race for the opposition ticket, after Ahn Cheol-soo, a famed software guru who shot to overwhelming popularity in polls, decided not to run, throwing his support behind Park.
The DP and other progressive groups earlier agreed to field a single candidate to face off against whomever the Grand National Party fields as its candidate.
Shortly after Han’s announcement, Park met with Sohn Hak-kyu, the DP chairman, where he was asked to join the main opposition party and make himself eligible for its mayoral nomination.
Rep. Sohn Hak-kyu (right), leader of the main opposition Democratic Party, greets lawyer-turned-civic activist Park Won-soon, who is expected to run for Seoul mayor in the Oct. 26 by-elections, before their talks at his office at the National Assembly on Tuesday. (Yonhap News)
Park, though considered to be on the left of the political spectrum, is not affiliated with any political party.
“The Seoul mayoral race will be the touchstone of the consolidation of liberal forces ahead of general and presidential elections next year,” Sohn said during his meeting with Park at the National Assembly building in Yeouido, Seoul.
“The Democratic Party’s door is wide open,” he said.
Park reiterated his intention to seek the candidacy of a unified liberal force encompassing political parties and progressive civic groups.
“What the public have shown me, through Ahn, is that they want a change and a breakaway from the established political order,” he said.
Park, however, did not completely rule out the possibility of joining the DP later on.
“(Liberal forces) need to refresh and regroup. I will do my part in the process, as a member (of the liberal forces),” he said.
The upcoming elections will fill a total of 32 vacancies for 11 local government heads and 21 local council members. The highlight by far is the contest for Seoul mayor, where a quarter of the population resides.
Oh Se-hoon, who was re-elected in 2010 as Seoul mayor, beating former premier Han by a razor-thin margin, stepped down last month after his all-out campaign to block a city council-pushed free school meal program ended in failure.
The results of the by-elections are seen as a litmus test of voter sentiment ahead of crucial parliamentary and presidential ballots, respectively slated for April and December next year.
The Grand National Party is seen to be way behind the DP in efforts to find a candidate with a shot at winning the crucial Seoul election. Its leaders have not yet decided where to look ― whether to search among its members or opt for an outside figure.
Rep. Kim Gi-hyeon, GNP spokesperson, told reporters Tuesday that the party aims to set candidate selection rules this week.
“Leaders are contacting potential contenders from both within and without the party, including some businessmen,” the lawmaker said.
Yet, it is likely to take some time until they know who among them actually would join the partisan race, he added.
Last week, President Lee Myung-bak tried to give some guidelines by saying on a TV program that someone with administrative experience should take the job. Lee was Seoul mayor before becoming president in 2008.
The remark was seen as defining the GNP’s strategy for the mayoral race, as Park lacks experience in public office.
A presidential spokesperson said later on that the president did not intend to influence the GNP’s candidate search.
Within the party, female Rep. Na Kyung-won appears to be leading a small group of mayoral aspirants, including Reps. Jung Doo-un and Kim Choong-hwan.
Outside the party, more names have been mentioned as possible candidates. They include Chung Un-chan, former prime minister, Maeong Hyung-kyu, former home affairs minister, Hwang Chang-gyu, former president of Samsung Electronics Co., Lee Seug-yeon, former minister of government legislation, and Kim Young-ran, incumbent chairwoman of the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission.
By Lee Sun-young (firstname.lastname@example.org