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Race for Seoul education chief still up for grabs

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Published : 2014-06-03 16:36
Updated : 2014-06-03 21:21

The race for Seoul education chief remained in the realm of uncertainty Tuesday, as lead runner Koh Seung-duk continued to struggle from the aftermath of his estranged daughter’s recent criticism.

Candy Koh, who currently resides with the conservative candidate’s ex-wife in the United States, said last week that her father was “unqualified” as the capital’s education superintendent because the former lawyer paid no heed to his children’s upbringing.

Koh had claimed he was forbidden to reach out to them by his ex-wife’s family, mainly his father-in-law Park Tae-joon, the founder of global steelmaker POSCO.

The younger Koh’s accusation is widely expected to impact the election. There has been a fierce dispute over whether Koh deserves contempt or pity, as he attempted to portray himself as a poor man banned by his ex-wife’s powerful family from seeing his children.

“I pity the man. Many married men in Korea can relate to this, but being married to a rich family, he would have been under enormous pressure,” said a taxi driver in his late 40s. “It’s not his fault that he didn’t contact his daughter.”

But others criticized Koh. “Even if other people pressured his daughter to write the letter, the fact is that he wasn’t there for his children as they were growing up. How can someone who did not take care of his family take care of a city of 10 million?” said a 23-year-old female college student.

Koh claimed his main rival, incumbent Seoul education superintendent Moon Yong-rin, was behind his daughter’s accusation. “I don’t know exactly who was behind (Candy’s letter), but she did not write it on her own. There has been evidence that he discussed it with the rest of the family,” the conservative candidate said.

Moon, who has labeled Koh as “knowing nothing about education,” publicly denied the accusations.

It is unclear how the revelation by Koh’s daughter will impact his campaign, as it was done after the results for the last public opinion poll were released. His once formidable lead had already been dwarfed to under 5 percentage points in most polls, and a May 27-28 survey by Realmeter even placed him at second place behind Moon.

If the family debacle sways the public opinion against Koh, he may succumb to his conservative rival.

There is, however, a possibility that neither Moon nor Koh will emerge as the winner. Cho Hi-yeon, a solitary liberal candidate who has been trailing the two in approval ratings, has sliced the deficit to between 4-10 percent in the latest polls.

In the early polls, Cho’s ratings hovered around 6 percent. This confounded the experts, given that liberal candidates usually had combined support of at least 30-35 percent. The low support for Cho largely stems from lack of support from the liberal bloc.

According to local media New Cham, Koh and Cho were virtually neck-to-neck in terms of support from the liberals. One survey by Korea Research showed that 32.6 percent of the liberal voters supported Koh while 31.8 percent picked Cho.

This means that if Koh’s recent fiasco with his ex-wife family had cost him liberal votes, the left-leaning voters may choose Cho instead. While he still trails his rivals, Cho’s deficit is no longer insurmountable.

Another factor is Lee Sang-myeon, a conservative candidate who is barely getting any media attention due to his low approval rating of around 6 or 7 percent. The former professor holds a grudge against Moon for allegedly breaking a promise not to run in this year’s election. Lee claimed that he forfeited his candidacy for the Seoul education chief election in 2012 because Moon pledged to forfeit his candidacy in 2014.

There has been speculation that Lee may drop out of the race and support Koh. He told the reporters Thursday that it is “not a stretch to think so” but refused to confirm if he or Koh had contacted each other.

By Yoon Min-sik (minsikyoon@heraldcorp.com)

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