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Scandal sees the Saenuri stumble

Bribery controversy impacts party support ahead of by-elections

Apr 15,2015
The ruling Saenuri Party is facing the mounting possibility of an all-out defeat by the opposition bloc in the April 29 by-elections, having been shaken in recent days by a bribery scandal implicating two former presidential chiefs of staff and the current prime minister under the Park Geun-hye administration.

The latest poll showed approval ratings for Saenuri candidates in four district races significantly reduced as the party scrambled to do damage control. In a poll conducted by Research View over the weekend, all ruling party candidates saw a loss of support in what has been interpreted as a result of the scandal, which put both the Park government and the party in crisis mode.

Controversy erupted after Sung Wan-jong, the former chairman of Keangnam Enterprises, dropped a series of bombshell revelations last week as prosecutors were investigating whether he may have cheated the government of millions of dollars in investments in overseas resources projects.

The business tycoon was found hanging by a necktie from a tree branch on Thursday on Mount Bukhan. Before his apparent suicide, however, he talked to the Kyunghyang Shinmun about his years of money dealings with politicians, in a testimony that linked a number of Saenuri heavyweights to the corruption.

Sung had also kept a journal of his meetings with top politicians and government officials since 2004, the JoongAng Ilbo learned Monday, in which he recorded dates and locations of his meetings with powerful men, including Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo.

In Gwanghwa B district, Saenuri candidate Ahn Sang-soo, the former mayor of Incheon, saw his approval rating fall behind that of Shin Dong-geun, the frontrunner for the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD).

He had 43.8 percent to Shin’s 46.8 percent. The new figure was a stark turnaround from a poll conducted just a week earlier in which Ahn was leading the race 50.1 percent to 40 percent.

In Jungwon District in Seongnam, Gyeonggi, ruling party candidate Shin Sang-jin was still leading the race with 43.4 percent compared to his opponent Chung Hwan-suk’s 38.3 percent. The gap, however, was much narrower than in the previous poll, which showed Shin ahead of Chung by 9.4 percentage points, 42.1 percent to 32.7 percent.

In Seoul’s Gwanak B District, Saenuri Candidate Oh Shin-hwan was leading the race with 37.3 percent, trailed by the NPAD’s Jung Tae-ho with 29 percent and Chung Dong-young with 23.5 percent.

The shifting dynamic in the run-up to the by-elections comes as a big disappointment for the ruling party, which had hoped to capitalize on divisions within the opposition and grab victories in three of four districts up for grabs in the election.

“Before the scandal, the opposition had failed to contend with the ruling party on policy-related fronts and instead displayed signs of internal fractures,” said Yoon Hee-wong, an analyst at the political consulting firm Opinion Live. “But the NPAD now has the advantage over the Saenuri thanks to this scandal, with public disappointment toward the ruling party on the rise.”

However, Yoon noted there “could be a twist” in the prosecution’s ongoing corruption investigation if it is determined that opposition lawmakers were also connected to lobbying efforts by the late businessman.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]


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