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Published : 2014-06-03 16:34
Updated : 2014-06-03 21:16

Voters are set to flock to polling stations for the local elections as the ruling Saenuri Party and main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy face unprecedented uncertainties.

Both the ruling party and the NPAD are experiencing trouble in their main strongholds, faced with unexpected challenges from independents.

For the Saenuri Party, the Busan mayoral race, which would normally be in the bag, has become a particularly sensitive issue.

Though the southern port city has invariably picked conservative mayors in the past, the Saenuri Party’s Suh Byung-soo is struggling to shake off independent Oh Keo-don. 
Activists conduct a voting promotion campaign in downtown Seoul on Tuesday to increase voter turnout in the June 4 local elections. (Yonhap)

Recent surveys give Suh only a narrow lead over Oh, whose campaign was merged with that of the NPAD candidate.

As such, Saenuri Party heavyweights including party chairman hopeful Rep. Kim Moo-sung have dedicated much time appealing to Busan voters. The party also began its final round of rallies on Tuesday in Busan, with floor leader Rep. Lee Wan-koo and the cochairs of the election committee there to garner support for Suh.

For the NPAD, Gwangju, a city laden with symbolic meaning for the progressives, is proving to be a critical battleground with its candidate Yoon Jang-hyun in a tight race against Kang Woon-tae.

The impact of losing Gwangju to Kang, a former party member who left in protest of Yoon’s nomination, will be far greater than a simple defeat for NPAD cochairmen Reps. Ahn Cheol-soo and Kim Han-gil.

The consequences for Ahn, experts say, will be far graver than for Kim.

According to Yonsei University professor Yang Seung-ham, losing Gwangju would be a lethal blow to Ahn’s political career.

The outlook for the races for Gyeonggi Province and Incheon’s chief administrative posts also remains unclear, with the latest publicly available polls indicating that they could go down to the last vote.

Both regions are considered important battlegrounds for the ruling and opposition blocs with the combined votes of the two regions close to 12 million, 29 percent of all Korean votes.

On Tuesday morning, staff from the camp of NPAD Gyeonggi governor candidate Kim Jin-pyo bowed their heads to voters going to work at Sungkyunkwan University Station in Suwon, the provincial capital.

Saenuri candidate Nam Kyung-pil, Kim’s competition in the gubernatorial race, met workers at Gimpo and Bucheon. The five-time lawmaker’s backbreaking campaign schedule will continue until 10 p.m. in downtown Suwon.

Nam led Kim by a narrow margin of 1.3 percent, according to a voter survey conducted last week by national broadcasters MBC and SBS. The survey’s margin of error was 3.5 percent.

Incheon is also set for a tight mayoral election between incumbent Song Young-gil of the NPAD and challenger Yoo Jeong-bok of the Saenuri Party. Yoo trailed Song by 8 percentage points in the survey conducted last week by MBC and SBS.

The Saenuri party accuses Song of having increased the municipal debt by 6 trillion won ($5.8 billion) while the NPAD says Yoo is partly responsible for the Sewol sinking last month. Yoo was the Minister of Security and Public Administration, a government agency overseeing national safety, until April 2, two weeks before the accident.

By Choi He-suk and Jeong Hunny
(cheesuk@heraldcorp.com) (hj257@heraldcorp.com)

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