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Campaign gets off to slow start

The official campaign period for this month’s by-election got off to a slow start Thursday as the nation remained preoccupied with the first anniversary of the Sewol sinking and political debates surrounding a high-profile graft scandal.

Candidates for the election began low-key, opting to pay tribute to the victims of the Sewol ferry disaster, which left 295 people dead and 9 people missing.

“Even though today is the first day of the by-election campaign, we will remain subdued as it is the first anniversary of the Sewol sinking,” said ruling Saenuri Party leader Kim Moo-sung.

The main opposition, New Politics Alliance for Democracy, also vowed a low-key campaign. “We will refrain from singing campaign songs and shouting political slogans. We will wear yellow ribbons in honor of the victims of the Sewol sinking,” said an official from the opposition party.

The election is scheduled to take place on April 29 and will fill four seats in Seoul, Gwangju, Incheon, and in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province. Three seats in Seoul, Gwangju and Seongnam were vacated by the Unified Progressive Party’s dissolution by the Constitutional Court in December. A seat in Incheon is also being contested as the incumbent lawmaker lost his seat after he violated election laws.

Constituents in Seoul’s Gwanak-B and Gwangju’s Seo-gu have traditionally favored liberal parties. Since the 13th general election in 1988, liberal party candidates have won every election in those districts. On the other hand, constituents in Incheon and Seongnam have voted for conservative parties in recent years.

Political experts said the coming election will be influenced by graft scandals surrounding deceased businessman Sung Wan-jong, who claimed he gave illicit money to high ranking government officials.

“The latest events could work in favor of the NAPD,” said Lee Jung-hee, political science professor of Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. “But that doesn’t mean the NAPD will be assured of victory. The opposition would be making a mistake if it tries to politicize the scandal and assume that people perceive them as being clean or approve of their (offensive),” Lee said.

By Yeo Jun-suk (