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Lee bows out of race

Lawyer Lee Seog-yeon effectively gave up his candidacy in the upcoming Seoul mayoral by-election, Wednesday.

“I am inclined to give up my candidacy, though nothing has yet been decided,” Lee told local media. “I will communicate with my supporters on this matter and announce my final stance tomorrow.”

The lawyer and former government legislation minister declared on Sept. 16 that he would challenge for mayor as an independent candidate to represent conservative civic groups.

His move, together with the rise of political rookie Park Won-soon who comes from liberal civic groups, raised the citizens’ expectation that a non-party candidate may win in a major election and bring changes to the political establishment.
Lee Seog-yeon
Lee Seog-yeon

However, unlike Park who kept his lead over all runners, Lee faced difficulties in his drive to gain attention, even before facing the internal race against Rep. Na Kyung-won of the Grand National Party. Na has pledged to run in the by-election race.

Lee’s retreat was largely due to his sluggish support rates, as well as his differing opinions with the GNP and with civic groups.

In most of the public polls conducted recently, Lee’s support rate remained below 5 percent, while that of his initial opponent, Rep. Na, rose steadily.

“I may have overestimated myself,” Lee said, after seeing the KBS public poll results in which Na beat him by double.

The GNP, after Lee’s refusal to join, turned up the heat on him to give up the race, citing public poll results and Lee’s vulnerability as a non-party candidate.

While the civic groups which recommended Lee as candidate insisted that he continue the race, they also had conflicts with him over the disputed free school meal issue.

“The free school meal budget may not be a problem, should Seoul City scale down its costly projects,” Lee said, causing anti-populist backlash from civic groups.

Boycotting a policy to provide free meals regardless of income levels is considered a major conservative move, which led former Mayor Oh Se-hoon to step down after losing the referendum on the issue.

“Our Constitution clearly states the concept of welfare as one of the fundamentals of our society,” said Lee. “I believe that there is a point of reasonable compromise on the issue and I should not be forced to oppose free meals just because I am a conservative camp candidate.”

The by-election campaign is thus expected to turn into a three-way race, featuring Rep. Na, Rep. Park Young-sun of the main opposition Democratic Party and independent liberal candidate Park Won-soon.

Rep. Na especially faced a slight setback in her publicity due to Lee’s withdrawal, as she expected a dramatic effect after winning the internal race against Lee, shortly before registering herself to the National Election Commission early next month.

Rep. Na’s support rate, though on the rebound to its previous top level, is slightly lower than that of Park Won-soon, according to a majority of public polls.

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