[2018 Local elections] From subway stations to elders dance class: Seoul mayoral election heats up

By Jo He-rim
  • Published : May 30, 2018 - 16:41
  • Updated : May 30, 2018 - 17:49

Just two weeks ahead of this year’s local election slated for June 13, Seoul’s mayoral candidates are trying to meet and interact with as many voters as they can, reaching out at public spaces and on the streets.

From greeting commuters in front of subway stations in the morning and evening rush hours, to visiting traditional markets and speaking in televised debates, there are not enough hours in the day for aspiring mayors.

From left: Seoul Mayoral candidates Park Won-soon of ruling Democratic Party of Korea, Kim Moon-soo of main opposition Liberty Korea Party and Ahn Cheol-soo of minor opposition Bareunmirae Party (Yonhap)

Leading candidate Park Won-soon of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, who is running for his third term, appeared in front of Mokdong Subway Station Exit 3 at 7:50 a.m. on Monday.

Park shook hands and shouted greetings to the citizens, as many hurriedly passed by on their way to work. Even at that busy hour, he was greeted by many, reflecting his popularity. A woman in her 30s waited in line, while pushing her luggage, to take a photo with Park before heading on a business trip.

At 8:30 a.m. Park hurriedly hopped in the black van waiting for him to get to Shinjung Social Welfare Center in Yangcheon-gu, to join the Charming Dance class for elders.

One beat behind, Park followed the instructor’s dance moves along with some 20 senior participants.

“I am a bad dancer, forgive me for my wrong moves,” Park said shyly, making the elders laugh. “You guys are so good. I will practice and be better next time.”

Seoul mayor candidate Park Won-soon of the ruling Democratic Party takes part in a senior citizens’ dance class at the Shinjung Social Welfare Center in Yangcheon-gu, Seoul, Monday. (Yonhap)

On the same day, Ahn Cheol-soo of the minor opposition Bareunmirae Party was also following a crammed schedule, announcing his policy manifesto to reconstruct the subway lines that are currently operated above ground level to place them underground.

A former presidential candidate and former party chief, Ahn spoke about his new subway policy inside the subway train. Taking Line No.1 from Noryangjin Station to Geumcheon-gu Office Station, he shook hands with all the citizens one by one.

Getting off at Geumcheon-gu Office Station, Ahn got into a van and moved on straight to the opening ceremony of an election camp for Jang Jin-young, who is running for Dongjak-gu Office chief position, to lend his support.

Ahn then hurried to Sungdae traditional market in Dongjak-gu where he greeted the citizens and market owners in the busy and narrow streets. 

Kim Moon-soo of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party started Monday by debating at an open forum that had invited all other candidates to speak. Kim also attended a meeting of Chungcheong Province Hometown Alumni and a villager conference. 

Seoul mayoral candidate Ahn Cheol-soo of the minor opposition Bareunmirae Party shakes hands with a citizen on a subway train on Monday. (Yonhap)

Park Do-eun, the vice spokesman for Park Won-soon’s election camp, explained it is inevitable for the candidates to reach out to as many districts as they can before the official campaigning starts Thursday.

During the 13-day campaign period before the actual voting takes place, the candidates are allowed to expand their electioneering -- publishing election posters and handouts, and wearing uniforms and shoulder girdles.

“Candidates have limited time, so the best they can do to come out to public places and meet as many voters as they can to raise awareness,” Park said.

“As for our camp, we try to visit areas where our party is weak, and also districts where we see a close contest,” he added.

Park currently tops the local polls. In the latest poll on Friday conducted by JoongAng Ilbo, a local daily, Park garnered a 51.2 percent approval rating from 819 respondents, while Ahn Cheol-soo from the center-right opposition Bareunmirae Party followed with 15.5 percent. Former provincial governor Kim Moon-soo of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party has 13.6 percent support.

Seoul mayoral candidate Kim Moon-soo of main opposition Liberty Korea Party greets participants at an open forum held at the Seoul Press Center on Monday. (Yonhap)

Lee Kap-youl, who was on the subway train with Ahn, said it was a must for the candidates to come out and meet citizens, as the internet and televised debates have limits.

“I am not sure about the younger people, but for elders like me, it is good to see them out in public. Though voters will all have their favorites, I believe such efforts of candidates (to interact with citizens) will influence their approval ratings,” Lee, 77, explained.

Dy Samnang, a Cambodian who was also on the same train was surprised to learn that Ahn was a politician running for Seoul mayor.

“I think it is interesting how these high-ranking politicians would come on the streets and public transportation to meet directly with the citizens. It does not happen in Cambodia,” Dy, 38, told The Korea Herald.

By Jo He-rim (

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