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[Election 2024] 5 races to watch

Big shots are running in these constituencies. Some may not prevail

By Shin Ji-hye

Published : April 9, 2024 - 18:28

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From left: Lee Jae-myung, Lee Jun-seok, Lee Nak-yon, Na Kyung-won, Ahn Cheol-soo (Korea Herald) From left: Lee Jae-myung, Lee Jun-seok, Lee Nak-yon, Na Kyung-won, Ahn Cheol-soo (Korea Herald)

In elections, the big shot politicians don’t always get to clinch easy wins.

In the April 10 general election, five prominent figures of South Korean party politics are vying for parliamentary seats via constituency races.

The outcomes of these contests are poised to have a significant potential impact on their future paths. A defeat, in particular, could cast their political futures into doubt.

How will they fare? Below is an overview of the five races.

Lee Jun-seok

Lee Jun-seok, who, in 2021 and at the age of 36 rose to the leadership of the country’s primary conservative faction, the People Power Party, has experienced three defeats in parliamentary elections.

This time, he cannot afford to lose again.

He was ousted from the People Power Party in 2022, despite having led the party to a presidential election victory earlier that same year. Lee has since turned into one of the most vocal critics of President Yoon Suk Yeol, and last year created his own New Reform Party.

As chief of the fledgling New Reform Party, Lee is contesting a seat in a constituency in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province.

His rivals are Gong Young-woon, a former Hyundai Motor executive who is running on the liberal Democratic Party of Korea’s ticket and People Power Party candidate Han Jung-min, a former Samsung Electronics researcher.

When asked if a defeat this time would mean the end of his political journey, Lee was not ready to count himself out, responding, “President Roh Moo-hyun, whom I admire, also experienced defeat in four elections, but never lost his willingness to take on challenges.”

Lee Nak-yon

Stakes are high for Lee Nak-yon, a political titan who has served as a five-term lawmaker, provincial governor and the nation’s prime minister.

Previously affiliated with the Democratic Party -- even a presidential primary candidate with the party in 2021 -- the senior politician bolted from the main opposition and launched the New Future Party.

For the first time as a contender against the Democratic Party, Lee is running for the National Assembly in the Gwangsan constituency of Gwangju, but his entry seems to be on a challenging course.

Lee is facing off against Min Hyung-bae from the Democratic Party. In a poll conducted from March 30 to April 1, Min held a big lead over Lee, with Min garnering 64 percent of support compared to Lee at just 17 percent.

Lee Jae-myung

Gyeyang-gu in Incheon is among the most closely observed areas, where main opposition leader Lee Jae-myung is competing against the ruling People Power Party’s Won Hee-ryong, who has previously served as land and transport minister and the governor of Jeju Island.

Lee was the previous presidential candidate for the Democratic Party, having narrowly lost to Yoon by a margin of just 0.73 percentage point in 2022.

If Lee wins, it will reaffirm the trust of his constituents and solidify his status as the next leading presidential contender. He is still considered the most significant presidential contender within the opposition bloc. If he is defeated, however, it could be a humiliating blow.

According to a public opinion poll conducted by the Korea Society Opinion Institute for Kyeongin Newspaper from April 2-3 among 505 Gyeyang-gu residents, Lee had support of 49.2 percent while Won trailed closely at 44 percent.

Ahn Cheol-soo

Ahn Cheol-soo, a former physician, CEO of AhnLab and three-term lawmaker, stands at a crossroads in his political career as he runs in the Bundang district of Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province.

Ahn faces a fiercely competitive race with Democratic Party candidate Lee Kwang-jae, a close confidant of former President Roh Moo-hyun.

A poll conducted by JoongAng IIbo and commissioned to Gallup Korea on April 2-3 targeting 501 voters in Bungdang showed a neck-and-neck race among the two. Lee was polling at 49 percent while Ahn had 43 percent.

Ahn initially ran in the last presidential election, but he eventually merged his campaign with Yoon in March of that year. The following month he joined the People Power Party through a party merger. He then ran as a candidate in the Bundang district in a by-election and was elected.

Na Kyung-won

Na Kyung-won, the former floor leader of the People Power Party, is competing against Ryu Sam-young, a candidate from the Democratic Party, in Dongjak-gu, Seoul.

The race is an exceptionally tight one, early polls have shown.

According to a survey commissioned by online news media outlet Edaily and conducted by Jo Won C&I on April 1-2, among 503 residents in Dongjak-gu, 48.5 percent of the respondents favored Ryu, while 47.5 percent supported Na.

If elected, Na will be returning to the Assembly for a fifth term.

Dongjak-gu, considered a strategic point in the capital city, is expected to have its outcome decided by the votes of those in their 50s in particular.

While Ryu showed an advantage among those in their 20s to 40s, Na was favored by those aged 60 and over. The support rates for the candidates were evenly matched among those in their 50s.