Opposition schedules vigils to try to halt GNP landslide

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Opposition schedules vigils to try to halt GNP landslide

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In a move to stop the conservative Grand National Party from scoring a landslide victory in local elections June 2, four opposition parties have joined forces to campaign together and galvanize voter support with large street gatherings reminiscent of the anti-government rallies of two years ago.

The elections this week will be the largest ever, with 3,991 positions to be filled. There are 38.9 million people eligible to vote and each voter will choose candidates in eight races, according to the National Election Commission.

The latest surveys show candidates from the ruling Grand National party ahead of the main opposition Democratic Party, particularly in the races for 16 metropolitan mayors and provincial governors. Alarmed by the polls, the Democratic Party played what it hopes to be a trump card yesterday by announcing a series of nighttime candlelight rallies starting yesterday to condemn the Lee Myung-bak administration and the GNP.

The Democratic Labor, Creative Korea and People’s Participation parties are also urging voters to come to the vigils. The candlelight campaign is designed to reawaken the anti-government sentiment of June 2008, when the public was angry about the government’s decision to resume U.S. beef imports, the Democratic Party said.

The key races to watch this week are the mayoralties of Seoul and Incheon and the Gyeonggi governor post. Because of the intense regionalism in Korean politics, the Grand Nationals have long enjoyed dominance in the Gyeongsang area and the Democrats dominate in Jeolla.

But this year, according to Joong-Ang Ilbo polls, the Grand National candidates are ahead of their rivals in Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi.

In addition, in past years, local elections held in the middle of a presidential term were often seen as referenda on the president and his administration, and the voters were always harsh. In the past four local elections, the opposition parties trounced the ruling party in most races.

If Lee’s GNP defeats that tradition, it will be an unprecedented show of political strength.

A poll conducted on May 23 and 24 showed that incumbent GNP Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon had the support of 46.7 percent of respondents, while the Democratic Party’s Han Myeong-sook was supported by 30.5 percent.

In another poll, conducted on May 24 and 25, incumbent Gyeonggi governor, Kim Moon-soo of the GNP, was backed by 46.5 percent of the voters, while Rhyu Si-min of the People’s Participation Party, the opposition’s candidate, was backed by 29.8 percent.

In a poll conducted on May 22 and 23, 42.6 percent of respondents in Incheon said they will re-elect incumbent mayor Ahn Sang-soo of the GNP, while 34.4 percent said they will vote for the DP’s Song Young-gil.

The ruling party has focused its campaign on the theme of political stability in a time of a security and economic crisis.

GNP leaders said that local governments led by its party will enhance administrative efficiency and implement key pledges of economic development in cooperation with the central government.

To try to reverse sentiment in the capital region, the liberals are urging young people to vote. DP Chairman Chung Sye-kyun joined the stumping at Seoul’s Hongik University and Incheon’s Inha University.

The age factor is also significant in these elections.

The GNP is generally backed by people in their 50s and 60s, while the Democrats are favored by the voters in their 20s and 30s. In the 2006 local election, the older the voters were, the higher the turnout, and the GNP enjoyed a landslide victory. While the turnout of people in their 20s was 33.9 percent, the turnout for voters in their 60s was 70.9 percent in 2006.

The National Election Commission forecasts about 50 percent turnout for the elections.

If the Grand Nationals win, such an unprecedented outcome is expected to add momentum to President Lee’s controversial policies including the Sejong City revision plan and the four river development programs.

A victory for the ruling party will also be seen as a public validation of Lee’s handling of the Cheonan’s sinking and his toughened North Korea policy.


By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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