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[Analysis] Victory comes with a price for DP

Park, Ahn and Moon likely to gain more political influence



The main opposition Democratic Party scored a major win against the Grand National Party in the Seoul mayoral by-election, but that victory came with its own political cost, political observers said Wednesday.

The liberal party lent its full support to Park Won-soon, an independent candidate backed by civil groups, in order to take Seoul from the control of the conservative GNP.

The decision to root for a civil activist, not one of its politicians, may backfire for the party, as Park and his key ally Ahn Cheol-soo are likely to gain more influence in the looming race for parliamentary and presidential elections next year, the observers said.

“I represent the public’s desire for new politics,” Park has been saying ever since he announced his run for Seoul mayor.

Political analysts have also said that the popularity of Park and Ahn, a famed venture entrepreneur and professor, reflect the deepening voter disillusionment with established politics.

The two, although they have no political affiliation, are supported by young and reform-minded voters, the traditional vote base of the DP.

“The victory of Park is the victory of DP,” Sohn Hak-kyu, chairman of the DP, said Tuesday, the last day of campaigning.

However, Sohn, a presidential aspirant, and other DP members will struggle to take the center position in the looming consolidation of center-left and liberal forces ahead of the presidential election, as outside figures -- Park, Ahn and Moon Jae-in, the former chief of secretary to the late President Roh Moo-hyun -- gain more political clout.

The GNP will have much soul-searching to do following the by-elections.

Mindful of the election’s fallout in the ruling camp, GNP chairman Rep. Hong Joon-pyo tried to play down the widespread notion that the Seoul mayoral election was a proxy war between liberal and conservative presidential candidates.

“I don’t think the Seoul election was a prelude to the presidential election,” he told reporters earlier in the day, after casting his ballot at a polling station in Seoul.

Still, Hong and other GNP leaders would find it hard to escape their responsibility for the loss, said Shin Yul, politics professor at Myongji University.

“If opposition wins, the GNP will have some difficult times, with members questioning whom to blame,” he said. Some could try to turn the blame to President Lee Myung-bak, who came under criticism for his plan for a luxury retirement house, he added.

The defeat of Na Kyung-won, the GNP’s candidate for Seoul mayor, if confirmed by the final results, would also deal a major blow to Park Geun-hye, the GNP’s most prominent presidential candidate who abandoned her low-key persona to campaign for Na.

“A mayor will not be able to run Seoul responsibly, if he or she doesn’t have a strong political party on its back,” Park Geun-hye has said Tuesday, meeting Na in her camp office.

The independent candidate’s victory would be a clear rebuttal of her remark by Seoul voters.

The election was widely considered as a proxy war between Park Geun-hye and her potential presidential competitors on the opposition side -- Ahn, Sohn and Moon.

Early returns indicated that Park Won-soon was poised for a victory in the Seoul mayoral by-election. Exit polls also placed Park ahead of Na.

For the ruling party, how to win in by-elections is a tough nut to crack as many voters have used them to deliver their judgment on the performance of the incumbent administration.

In three of the four by-elections conducted since the Lee Myung-bak administration took office in February 2008, the GNP suffered defeats to the DP.

In the by-election on April 29, 2009, the GNP failed to secure even one out of the five parliamentary seats up for grabs.

In another held on Oct. 28, 2009, the GNP was virtually defeated as it failed to gain any seats in strategically crucial districts in the Seoul metropolitan area and the Chungcheong region.

In the by-election on July 28, 2010, the ruling party saved its face as it won in five out of the eight parliamentary seats at stake. But it had to sustain another setback in an April 27 by-election this year as it lost in two of the three key districts including one in Bundang, Gyeonggi Province, which had long been regarded as one of its strongholds.

By Lee Sun-young  (milaya@heraldcorp.com)
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