[Newsmaker] Rivals square off in Seoul mayoral race

By Korea Herald
  • Published : May 13, 2014 - 21:02
  • Updated : May 13, 2014 - 21:02
The joys of taking the party primary in a landslide win are likely to be short-lived for Rep. Chung Mong-joon, who goes up against incumbent Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon in the June 4 local elections.

On Monday, Chung won the ruling Saenuri Party’s Seoul mayoral primary, but the fallout from the Sewol ferry disaster stacks the odds against the seven-term lawmaker.

The accident pushed the local elections on to the backburner, with both parties launching special committees to deal with the issue. 
Chung Mong-joon, Park Won-soon

However, their efforts appear to have done little in the way of gaining the public’s trust. The responses to visits to Jindo Island by politicians were at best indifferent, while many observers criticized such actions as being counterproductive to the rescue efforts.

Before the April 16 accident, the Saenuri Party’s ratings had risen steadily to 45 percent, the highest seen this year, in the third week of April.

As public outrage over the government’s response rose, the ruling party’s ratings dropped to 39 percent in the first week of May.

Park Won-soon’s New Politics Alliance for Democracy received a comparatively small impact with ratings dropping by 2 percentage points over the same period to come in at 23 percent.

For Chung, the ferry disaster’s impact was twofold. Not only was the government, and by association his party, seen as to blame, his youngest son chimed in with a highly controversial comment.

Two days after the accident, the young Chung referred to the reactions of Sewol victims’ families and the Korean public “primitive” on his Facebook account. Despite the seven-term lawmaker issuing a rare public apology, his son’s words were soon taken up by the media in indirect criticism of the comment.

While the impacts of such developments are difficult to calibrate, recent surveys suggest that Chung has lost significant ground.

When Chung entered the fray earlier this year, he was seen as a relative long shot compared to the incumbent Seoul mayor. In the weeks leading to the ferry disaster, Chung gained on and even overtook Park with some surveys placing him about 2 percentage points ahead. A poll conducted on May 5, however, showed Chung trailing again by more than 6 percentage points.

The ruling party is likely to be hounded by the disaster with the NPAD hoping to capitalize on the rising public discontent.

“I make it clear that responses do not end with apologizing and announcing follow-up measures. An apology is where responses begin,” NPAD cochairman Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo said Monday.

The main opposition is attempting to lay the blame for the disaster at the feet of the Park Geun-hye administration. In addition, the NPAD is likely to superimpose related issues on to the strategy of “passing judgment on the administration,” a tactic long used by opposition parties to rally support ahead of various elections.

By Choi He-suk (