Seoul’s education chief, Cho Hee-yeon, appeared likely to extend his term for a third time, with exit polls for Wednesday’s local elections showing him attracting 38.6 percent of the vote.
The exit polls, conducted by terrestrial broadcasters KBS, MBC and SBS, had the liberal-leaning candidate snatching a victory against conservative-leaning opponents who had failed to merge their campaigns and bring together their supporter base. The runner-up in the exit polls was Cho Jun-hyuk, who earned 26.3 percent support.
Cho Hee-yeon waited for the exit polls at his campaign office in western Seoul, along with his wife, supporters and others. He did not comment on the poll results.
With the lead in the exit polls, it is likely Cho will continue after eight years as the education chief of Seoul.
Though education chiefs are not permitted to be endorsed by or affiliated with political parties, Cho has been known as a superintendent with a liberal stance in his policies.
During the election, Cho pledged to improve the overall quality of public education. However, he said he is against ranking students based on scores.
He pledged to continue to push for the abolishment of autonomous private high schools and foreign-language high schools. He has been a strong opponent of specialized private high schools, arguing the schools encourage private education at the primary level.
He said he is for the high school credit system, which allows students to choose their own classes depending on their desired careers, but also pointed out that the system needs improvement, as it can be burdensome to teachers.
Conservative-leaning candidates Cho Jun-hyuk, Park Sun-young, Cho Yeong-dal and Yoon Ho-sang also ran in the election, but they failed to form a united front and continued to attack each other to the last minutes of the campaign.
Other liberal candidates in the election were Choi Bo-seon and Kang Shin-man. Kang, however, pulled his name out of the race after announcing support for Cho a week before the election.
In Gyeonggi Province, conservative-leaning candidate Yim Tae-hee was shown with 54.3 percent in the exit polls against liberal-leaning candidate Sung Ki-sun, who garnered 45.7 percent. Sung was the head of the Korea Institute of Curriculum & Evaluation under the Moon Jae-in administration.
If Yim, a former chief of staff to former conservative President Lee Myung-bak, takes office, the candidate would put an end to 13 years of a liberal-leaning Gyeonggi Province education office. Gyeonggi Province has had liberal superintendents since it began to vote for its own education chief in 2009.
According to the exit polls, conservative-leaning candidates held the lead in seven regions: Gyeonggi Province, Daegu, North Gyeongsang Province, Daejeon, North Chungcheong Province, Gangwon Province and Jeju Island.
Liberal-leaning candidates also took the lead in seven regions: Seoul, Ulsan, Gwangju, South Chungcheong Province, Sejong and the South and North Jeolla provinces.
In Incheon, South Gyeongsang Province and Busan, liberal- and conservative-leaning candidates were in near ties.
The last decade has been called an era of liberal education superintendents.
In the 2018 local elections, 14 out of 17 elected education chiefs were recognized as liberal-leaning figures. Only those from Daejeon, Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province were categorized as moderate or conservative-leaning figures. The 2014 local elections showed similar numbers, with 13 out of 17 elected education chiefs being liberal.
By Im Eun-byel (firstname.lastname@example.org