The two main political parties began the year with a war cry for the June 4 local elections, but their members approached the issue with different attitudes.
The ruling Saenuri Party has already seen a number of its lawmakers and members declare their intentions to run in the upcoming elections, including three for Incheon mayor. In addition, Rep. Park Min-shik declared that he will run for Busan mayor, while Saenuri Party supreme council member Lee Hye-hoon is so far the only one to announce intentions to run for Seoul mayor.
In contrast, the main opposition Democratic Party has yet to see its members openly declare their intentions to represent the party in the local elections. The only notable exception is the Gyeonggi Province governor race, with Rep. Won Hye-young having made his announcement on Jan. 2, and Rep. Kim Jin-pyo expected to follow suit within the month.
According to Myongji University professor Shin Yul, the timing of announcements to run in the elections is closely linked to the support ratings of the parties.
“It is the norm for members of a party with strong support to announce their candidacy early, in order to get a head start,” Shin said.
He added that entering the local elections for incumbent lawmakers of a party with a wavering supporter base is a difficult decision as it requires them to resign without any sureties.
Over the course of the last year, the Saenuri Party’s support rate stayed above the 40-percent mark, dipping to 39 percent for only three months, according to Gallup Korea.
The figures for the DP stayed below the mid-20s throughout the year to come in at 20 percent in December.
Shin said that the situation is much less certain for the DP. The main opposition party not only heads for the local elections with dismal support ratings, but also faces the impending launch of a new party by independent Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo. Although Ahn’s party has yet to take shape, polls show that the DP will be pushed into a tight corner following its launch, even in its trusted stronghold of the Jeolla provinces.
“(DP lawmakers) are in part observing Ahn Cheol-soo’s side. But the situation concerning Ahn remains a variable,” Shin said. Ahn’s “new politics committee,” which is to form his party’s foundations, lacks high profile figures, suggesting that established politicians consider joining Ahn as a high risk venture, he said.
Regardless of the gravity of the threat posed by Ahn, the DP appears to be preparing for the worst, fueling rumors that it will field heavyweights including Chung Dong-young and Rep. Park Jie-won in the southwestern region to ensure victory. The two, however, have denied the rumors.
Chung, a former Unification Minister and DP adviser, was reportedly considered as a candidate for North Jeolla governor, while Park was linked to the race for South Jeolla governor. Park, one of late President Kim Dae-jung’s closest associates, has served in key roles including that of floor leader.
By Choi He-suk (firstname.lastname@example.org)