The opposition struggled on Monday to finalize its slate for the July 30 by-elections amid intraparty discord over candidate selections in strategically vital districts.
Aspiring candidates in the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy protested unilateral decisions by senior party officials to field particular candidates in Seoul and Gwangju.
Last week, the NPAD selected Ki Dong-min, former vice mayor of Seoul, to run in Seoul’s Dongjak-B constituency, over Heo Dong-jun. Heo is a local party official who has been passed over in candidate selection three times.
Heo is fiercely protesting the decision, saying it was time he was given a chance to stand for parliament. The former student activist began a sit-in on Friday in the party chairman’s conference room. On Monday, Heo initiated an unofficial signature-gathering campaign online. He intends to collect 10,000 signatures.
Complicating the situation is the personal relationship between Ki and Heo. Both were supporters of the late Kim Keun-tae, a liberal politician sometimes called the “godfather” of Korean democracy, and Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon.
Heo went so far as to call Ki “a 20-year companion” after the NPAD announced Ki as their man to run in Seoul’s Dongjak constituency.
The two politicians reportedly met Sunday morning to share thoughts, but Ki has yet to make a public statement on whether he will accept the NPAD’s offer.
Ki had originally applied to run as the NPAD candidate for a parliamentary seat representing Gwangju, a traditionally pro-NPAD city in southwestern Korea. But there as well, the NPAD leadership is undecided on whom to nominate, amid rumors and stern warnings from prospective candidates that they will run no matter what.
The NPAD’s Chun Jung-bae, a former Justice Minister in the Roh Moo-hyun administration, is threatening to run as an independent in Gwangju, after the NPAD decided to select a different candidate.
Elsewhere, Choi Myeong-gil, a former senior official at broadcaster MBC, also decided to step down from his candidacy in Daejeon, dealing a blow to the opposition three weeks before the elections. Choi said he could not accept the party leadership’s decision to make him run in a primary alongside one particular “unfit” candidate.
NPAD officials had originally recruited Choi last week to nominate him to a strategic election battleground.
Big names are expected to compete in these by-elections. The names reflect the importance of the elections, according to analysts. Fifteen seats in the National Assembly are vacant, meaning the opposition could prevent the ruling Saenuri Party from retaining its majority in parliament.
The Saenuri Party holds 147 of the 300 seats. At least four ruling party candidates must win in the by-elections to give the Saenuri Party an absolute majority.
Lim Tae-hee, former senior aide to President Lee Myung-bak, will run as a Saenuri candidate in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province. In Suncheon, South Jeolla Province, President Park Geun-hye’s former public relations secretary Lee Jung-hyun will face Suh Gab-won, a former lawmaker and aide to President Roh Moo-hyun. Lee will represent the Saenuri Party and Suh the NPAD.
By Jeong Hunny (firstname.lastname@example.org)