Elections raise rookies, bring down big guns

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Jul 31, 2014 - 21:15
  • Updated : Jul 31, 2014 - 21:15
Wednesday’s parliamentary by-elections have produced a number of results as unexpected as the ruling Saenuri Party’s overwhelming victory.

The elections have left New Politics Alliance for Democracy heavyweights floundering, while launching the political careers of others.

In Seoul’s Dongjak-B former judge and conservative lawmaker Na Kyung-won beat progressive bigwig Roh Hoe-chan of the minor opposition Justice Party.

The constituency was linked to a long list of conservative and opposition heavyweights as soon as its former holder Chung Mong-joon resigned to run for Seoul mayor. 
Saenuri Party lawmaker-elects including Na Kyung-won (fourth from left), who won Seoul’s Dongjak-B seat, pose at the National Assembly on Thursday. (Lee Gil-dong/The Korea Herald)

Na was a surprise choice in a number of ways. The ruling party had initially denied that she was being considered a candidate for the region. The Saenuri Party, however, backtracked only to be turned down by Na. The 50-year-old former judge then accepted the candidacy on June 9, one day before candidate registrations began.

Although Na immediately took the lead in opinion polls, Roh quickly caught up after absorbing the campaign NPAD candidate Ki Dong-min. As a Justice Party candidate, Roh trailed far behind Na but as a representative of an alliance of opposition parties, Roh narrowed the gap to less than 1 percentage point in surveys.

True to expectations, Roh was the only ultimately unsuccessful opposition candidate to give a close chase, losing by less than 1,000 votes.

Although not entirely unexpected, the defeat of opposition heavyweight Sohn Hak-kyu is expected to have long-lasting effects.

Often referred to as a “hidden dragon,” a term for potential presidential candidates in local politics, Sohn was one of the biggest cards in the New Politics Alliance for Democracy’s arsenal.

As such, he was picked to steel a long-time conservative electorate out from the Saenuri Party.

He was picked in an attempt to sway voters using his clout as a heavyweight politician.

The tactic, however, has not only failed but is expected to have harsh consequences for both Sohn and the NPAD.

“It was the wrong choice to run there (Suwon-C), which was held by the Nams for some 30 years,” professor Shin Yul of Myongji University said. The Suwon-C constituency was held by Gyeonggi Province Gov. Nam Kyung-pil for five consecutive terms and by his father Nam Pyung-woo

“If he is to make a comeback, he will have to go through a very difficult process.”

Shin says that Sohn’s defeat will also have serious repercussions for the main opposition party. According to Shin, it has left the party with only Rep. Moon Jae-in as a potential presidential candidate.

“The NPAD has shot itself in the foot,” Shin said.

The large gap in Sohn’s and his foe’s caliber as politicians is likely to add to the impact of Wednesday’s outcome.

Sohn, a former provincial governor and opposition leader, was defeated by rookie Kim Yong-nam by nearly 5,000 votes.

Unlike Sohn, Kim has no real experience in the political arena, having worked as a public prosecutor for much of his professional life. The 44-year-old cut his teeth only in 2012 working on President Park Geun-hye’s election committee for Suwon.

Along with Sohn, former South Gyeongsang Province Gov. Kim Du-kwan is another NPAD heavyweight who was dealt a heavy blow.

As with Sohn, Kim Du-kwan is a big-name within the progressive bloc, having built up his career from scratch in the conservative stronghold of South Gyeongsang Province.

Experts say that winning Gimpo, Gyeonggi Province would have proved his mettle as a strong presidential contender not only within his home province but also in the capital region.

And he was, at least according to NPAD’s assessment, giving the Saenuri Party’s Hong Cheol-ho during the campaign period. The assessment, and Kim’s chances at a presidential run, have been dashed by more than 10,000 votes.

By Choi He-suk (