Hong Joon-pyo emerges as presidential contender

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Mar 6, 2017 - 17:26
  • Updated : Mar 6, 2017 - 17:36

South Gyeongsang Province Gov. Hong Joon-pyo is emerging as a potential presidential candidate of the ruling conservative camp, after a court ruling last month cleared him of corruption allegations.

The second-term governor in recent days has made a series of high-profile moves and provocative comments that suggest he is considering running for president.

Asked directly on radio whether he would run, the 62-year-old governor said Monday, “I am not going (to run for the presidential office) just to be the head of a family in mourning. I will make up my mind when I have confidence in victory.”
South Gyeongsang Province Gov. Hong Joon-pyo (Yonhap)

A former star prosecutor, five-time lawmaker and chairman of the ruling Liberty Korea Party’s precursor, the Grand National Party, in 2011, Hong could be the most powerful candidate for the conservative camp, along with Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, some pundits say.

Hwang, who has taken over duties from impeached President Park Geun-hye, has no party affiliation, but is widely seen as a candidate for the ruling camp. The prime minister, in a latest poll released Monday, garnered nearly 15 percent of support, although he has not indicated his presidential bid. The liberal opposition’s Moon Jae-in was the clear front-runner with 36.4 percent of support.

Hong said Hwang’s popularity is “solid” and “well-founded.”

“With the president suspended from duties, (Prime Minister Hwang) is leading the nation in a stable manner. But I have never considered him as my rival or political partner. He is a bureaucrat and I am a politician,” he said.

The governor projected that the presidential race would shape up to be a four-way race among front-runner Moon, Sim Sang-jeong of the far-left Justice Party, Ahn Cheol-soo of the centrist People’s Party and the conservative flagbearer, whoever it turns out to be.

He stressed that the conservatives -- currently split into two groups, the Liberty Korea Party and Bareun Party, must field a single candidate to stand any chance of victory against the formidable left.

As for sanctioned President Park, who is awaiting a court ruling on the fate of her presidency after being embroiled in a corruption scandal, Hong said the conservative leader was not someone who would pursue personal gains and commit crimes.

“She is just inept and is someone who could be easily deceived by a clumsy person like Choi Soon-sil,” he said, referring to the president’s longtime friend who is accused of corruption.

Hong was under suspicion that he received 100 million won ($87,943) from Sung Wan-jong, the late former head of Kyungnam Corp., a local construction firm, ahead of the ruling party’s leadership election in 2011. He was in September sentenced to 18 months in prison, but an appeals court overturned the ruling last month, clearing him of charges.

By Lee Sun-young (