Opposites battle in South Chungcheong race

By Claire Lee
  • Published : May 28, 2014 - 21:07
  • Updated : May 28, 2014 - 21:07
This is the sixth installment in series of articles on the upcoming local elections, exploring key issues and candidates in major cities. ― Ed.

As much as Seoul mayoral candidates Park Won-soon and Chung Mong-joon are considered polar opposites, the two main runners for the South Chungcheong Province governor race are too.

The incumbent governor of the region, Ahn Hee-jung, who is seeking his second term, was one of late President Roh Moo-hyun’s closest aides. Ahn’s rival Chung Jin-suk, on the other hand, belongs to the pro-Park Geun-hye faction of the ruling Saenuri Party.

Recent polls showed that Ahn is leading Chung by more than 10 percentage points, while some 25 percent of the voters said they were still undecided. 

Ahn, who had been Roh’s longtime confidante since 1994, played a significant role as a strategist for Roh’s 2002 presidential election campaign.

Prior to entering politics, he studied philosophy at Korea University where he participated in a number of student activism against the authoritarian government. He was imprisoned for 10 months in 1988 for his involvement in antigovernment activities. Ahn also worked as a construction worker and a salesman for a publisher before meeting Roh.

The New Politics Alliance for Democracy candidate, however, was sentenced to one year in prison during Roh’s term in 2004, after being found guilty of accepting illegal political funds from corporations. After being released, Ahn stayed out of politics throughout Roh’s presidency, working as an adviser for a Busan-based textile company. He was elected as the governor of South Chungcheong Province in 2010.

Since last year, Ahn has been open about his political ambitions ― that he would seek a greater role in his party and challenge for the nation’s presidency. “I am announcing that I am willing to make history (by carrying on the spirit of former Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun),” the candidate said on Monday in Gongju, South Chungcheong Province, during his campaign speech.

Meanwhile, Chung started his career as a journalist at a major local newspaper, the Hankook Ilbo, covering politics. He also served as the paper’s Washington correspondent in the early 1990s.

The Saenuri Party candidate is known for his close relationship with Kim Jong-pil, the Chungcheong-born, two-time Prime Minister who is also the founder of the country’s National Intelligence Service.

Chung, the former Assembly secretary general and three-term lawmaker, also served as the senior secretary for political affairs at Cheong Wa Dae for former President Lee Myung-bak.

While Ahn’s pledges include betterment of working conditions for child care workers and improved welfare services for seniors, Chung’s include building a hospital in Asan, and establishing a baseball stadium in Cheonan.

In spite of their differences, the two candidates share one thing in common: both were born in South Chungcheong Province. Ahn was born in Nonsan, while Chung was born in Gongju.

By Claire Lee (