Five heavyweight contenders are hoping to make history in Wednesday’s by-elections, dubbed “miniature general elections.”
The ruling and opposition parties are fielding some of the biggest names in their arsenal in constituencies that hold strategic implications for the political arena.
From the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy, Sohn Hak-kyu and Kim Du-kwan stand out in terms of experience, with both having served as provincial governors. Meanwhile the minor opposition Justice Party has chosen its former leader Roh Hoe-chan to contend against the ruling party candidate for Seoul’s Dongjak-B constituency.
The ruling Saenuri Party’s big guns are former senior presidential press secretary Lee Jung-hyun and former Chief of Staff and Labor Minister Yim Tae-hee.
The two Saenuri Party candidates have been given heavy tasks befitting their close relationships with current and former presidents.
Lee Jung-hyun, one of President Park Geun-hye’s closest aides, has been thrown deep into enemy territory, having been nominated for South Jeolla Province’s Suncheon-Gokseong constituency.
No constituency in South Jeolla Province has been held by a conservative lawmaker since 1988. Lee, however, has done surprisingly well against the NPAD’s Seo Kap-won so far, with some surveys showing him to have more support than the opposition candidate.
With the region’s deep-rooted progressive colors, Lee taking the constituency would not only relaunch his political career but also deal a heavy blow to the fledgling NPAD.
Lee’s fellow Saenuri Party candidate Yim Tae-hee is hoping to sweep the progressive-favored Suwon-D district out from under the opposition.
Yim is the former presidential chief of staff of President Lee Myung-bak. He also served as the Labor Minister in the administration and ran for president in the Saenuri Party’s in-house elections ahead of the 2012 race.
If Yim wins in the Suwon-D district, the 57-year-old politician could be considered a Saenuri presidential candidate, according to experts.
Yim has been attracting voters by promising to bring in double-decker buses for office workers living in Suwon. Commuters working in Seoul have been complaining about the lack of buses. Strengthened safety regulations after the April ferry disaster limiting the number of bus passengers have led to long commuter lines at bus stops throughout Gyeonggi Province.
The three big-name progressives running in the by-elections are also hoping to take constituencies previously held by the rival bloc.
Among them, former opposition leader and Gyeonggi Province governor Sohn Hak-kyu of the NPAD perhaps has the most riding in the by-elections.
Sohn is running in the Suwon-C constituency, which was previously held by Gyeonggi Province Gov. Nam Kyung-pil, who held the seat for five consecutive terms.
After defecting to the opposition bloc from the conservatives, Sohn quickly rose in prominence and his name became one of those most frequently linked to presidential attempts.
If Sohn were to take the conservative constituency, it would further consolidate his presence within his party, and might even bolster his position as a potential presidential candidate.
As for Kim Du-kwan, who is running in Gimpo, Gyeonggi Province, he is a big-name figure who traces his political beginnings to grassroots politics in Namhae, South Gyeonggsang Province, where he served as town mayor. He went on to serve as the governor of South Gyeongsang Province and as public administration minister.
Having proven his mettle in the conservative Gyeongsang region, a victory in Gimpo is expected to raise his chances of becoming the opposition’s presidential candidate in 2017. Experts say that a victory by Kim would prove to NPAD officials that he has support in swing regions.
As for Roh Hoe-chan, experts say that he could boost support for liberals in the parliament if elected in the strategically important Seoul Dongjak-B. The former lawmaker boosted his chances of defeating the Saenuri Party candidate in the Dongjak-B electorate when the NPAD’s Ki Dong-min dropped his candidacy on July 24. With Ki out of the race, Roh is expected to absorb most of the ballots from anti-Saenuri Party voters.
Roh was elected to parliament in 2004 and 2012. He lost his parliamentary seat in 2012, however, after the Supreme Court found him guilty of violating communications laws. Roh had leaked recordings related to the so-called “Samsung X-file” scandal involving senior executives of Samsung, prosecutors and politicians.
By Choi He-suk and Jeong Hunny