Rival parties will face off in four constituencies on Wednesday in by-elections that are heading to an unpredictable finish following the political upheaval over the latest graft scandal.
The outcome of the elections being contested by the rival parties as well as independent heavyweights is likely to set the tone for ongoing discussions at the National Assembly on various controversial reforms including that on civil servant pension and the labor market.
The race is also considered the first major test for the leaders of the major parties -- Kim Moo-sung of the ruling Saenuri Party and Moon Jae-in of the main opposition New Political Alliance for Democracy.
The by-elections will fill a seat in Seoul, two in Incheon, one in Gwangju and another in Gyeonggi Province. Constituents in Gwangju and Gwanak-B in Seoul have traditionally voted for liberal parties since 1988, while voters in Incheon and Seongnam have favored conservative parties in recent years.
Election watchdog officials test ballot boxes at an elementary school in Gwanak-gu, Seoul, Tuesday. (Yonhap)
Candidates and party leaderships have put all-out efforts to appeal to the voters on the eve of the elections pitching themselves as alternatives to the increasingly unpopular government.
“The Park Geun-hye administration has failed in three parts. It has failed to boost the economy, to properly appoint government officials and to stay away from corruption. The voters should give a referendum on the Park administration,” said Moon as he campaigned for his party candidate running in the Incheon constituency.
Kim, also in Incheon, tried to deviate from the scandal fallout and underscored the ruling party should bag the seat to implement key regional policies and projects.
“I suspected the upcoming election would be difficult, but things have got better since we reached out to the voters and gave them sincere apologies.”
The Saenuri Party has been struggling to contain the backlash from the scandal sparked by a memo of dead Kaengnam Enterprises businessman Sung Woan-jong, who claimed to have given money to eight of the key members of the ruling party and the incumbent government.
The fight has now become a tit-for-tat over which administration is more responsible for having pardoned Sung back in 2004 and 2007.
In the meantime, two liberal heavyweights -- former opposition leader Chung dong-young and former four-term lawmaker Chun Jung-bae -- decided to run independently in Seoul’s Gwanak B and Gwangju’s Seo-gu, adding more complexities to the race.
“If the NPAD wins the elections, namely securing all seats including Gwangju, then the party can accelerate their offensives aimed at President Park Geun-hye’s supposed lameduck status,” said Shin Yul, political science professor of Myongji University
“If (NPAD) loses, particularly in Gwangju, the opposition parties will be forced to realign their liberal blocks,” said Shin.
The by-election will take place on Tuesday from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. The winners will be become clear around 10 p.m. on Tuesday, the election watchdog said.
By Yeo Jun-suk (email@example.com