For by-elections, the race is on

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For by-elections, the race is on

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Ohm Ki-young, left, a former MBC president who recently joined the GNP, and Democratic Party Representative Choi Moon-soon, right, Ohm’s predecessor at MBC, attend an event to promote their Gangwon gubernatorial race. [YONHAP]

The April 27 by-elections are considered the litmus test of public sentiment as President Lee Myung-bak enters the fourth year of his five-year term.

Although more than a month is left before candidates officially register to run, the ruling Grand National Party and the largest opposition Democratic Party have already started fierce competitions to recruit prominent politicians.

Four positions are up for grabs this April - Gangwon governor and representatives for Bundang in Seongnam, Gyeonggi, Gimhae in South Gyeongsang and Suncheon in South Jeolla.

The Bundang vacancy was created when GNP Representative Yim Tae-hee left to become Blue House chief of staff.

The other three posts opened up when the Supreme Court convicted three political Democratic Party heavyweights who held the positions.

The National Election Commission will receive official candidate applications on April 12 and 13. The official campaign will begin after registration.

The Gangwon gubernatorial race is heating up fast - both the GNP and DP recruited former Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation presidents as possible candidates.

Ohm Ki-young, also a former news anchor, joined the Grand National Party on Wednesday, and the Democratic Party’s Choi Moon-soon, Ohm’s presidential predecessor at the MBC, has declared his ambition to fight for the position.

Ohm served as the broadcaster’s president from March 2008 to February 2010 and Choi served the post from February 2005 to February 2008. They also both went to the same high school.

Ohm resigned from the post in protest of MBC’s major stakeholder picking board-member candidates. While the television network’s longest-serving news anchor was serving as president, the GNP also openly pressured him to step down over the broadcaster’s critical views toward the administration.

As the MBC labor union and Democrats called Ohm a “traitor,” Ohm said in a press conference Wednesday, “I chose the Grand National Party for grand politics and more effective provincial affairs to serve the Gangwon people. It is true I had differences with the Lee administration about media, but I have decided to become a GNP candidate for Gangwon governor, leaving aside everything because the province needs the ruling party.”

Choi also held a press conference on Wednesday, criticizing Ohm’s move.

“I deplore Ohm’s decision joining the GNP,” said Choi.

“The GNP kicked him out to gain control of media, but is now recruiting him. It shows that the ruling party doesn’t even have the least amount of ethics to run the country,” Choi added.

Choi called the marriage between the GNP and Ohm “the classic example of opportunism and dirty collusion and insulting the people of Gangwon.”

But as the competition between Ohm and Choi is heating up, more politicians in both the GNP and DP have expressed their ambition to become Gangwon’s new governor. The Grand National Party, therefore, will hold a primary race and announce the outcome on April 4. The Democratic Party will also have its primary early next month.

The race to become the new representative of Gimhae in South Gyeongsang is also getting warm as the Grand National Party considers a plan to field former candidate for prime minister and former South Gyeongsang Governor Kim Tae-ho.

Last August, Kim gave up his prime minister nomination after opposition politicians hurled corruption allegations at him during confirmation hearings. After the embarrassing debacle, Kim left for China, but his aides said Kim will return to Korea on Saturday.

“I understand what the party’s thinking is. I will listen to the Gimhae people’s opinions and make a decision on what I should do,” Kim was quoted as saying on Tuesday by GNP Secretary General Won Hee-ryong.

Won also said Kim was aware of the GNP’s plan to hold a primary race to field a candidate in Gimhae.

“Kim was worried that other candidates were already campaigning,” Won said.

A senior party official also said Kim had expressed interest in returning to the political arena.

Despite the debacle over the prime minister nomination, Kim is still a prominent and strong politician, he said, adding that his bid is important for the GNP to attract attention from voters.

The primary race to become the Grand National candidate for the Bundang election is also heating up with many prominent politicians declaring their aspirations.

Former GNP Chairman Kang Jae-sup and former National Assembly Secretary General Park Kye-dong have already declared their intent to join the primary.

Representatives Cho Yoon-sun and Chung Ok-nim, both women, are also considered as possible candidates, while speculation has continued to run rampant about former Prime Minister Chung Un-chan’s possible entry into the race.

“What’s the odds that Korea will win the World Cup?” said Won, when asked about the possibility that Chung will enter the primary. “Everything is flexible.”

Although the Democratic Party has a strong opponent against the GNP in the Gangwon gubernatorial election, the largest opposition party is having trouble finding prominent candidates in other districts. The strategy of forming an alliance with other opposition parties to field a single candidate to unite liberal votes is also causing more trouble.

The desperate situation was revealed by speculation that DP Chairman Sohn Hak-kyu should run in the Bundang race against a GNP rival. Sohn, however, dismissed the possibility, saying he had to put his energy to support all DP candidates in the April by-elections.

In Suncheon, South Jeolla, a traditional Democratic Party stronghold, no politician from the GNP has made public any ambition to join the race, while minority opposition parties are pressuring the DP to field no candidate so that their candidates have a chance.


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

Related Korean Article[중앙일보]
4·27 재·보선 후보 어떻게 돼가나
돌아오는 김태호 “김해 여론 듣겠다”

춘천서 강릉서 … 몸 푸는 강원지사 후보들 4월 27일 치러질 강원도지사 보궐선거에 한나라당 경선 후보로 나설 예정인 엄기영 전 MBC 사장(왼쪽)과 출마를 선언한 민주당 최문순 전 MBC사장이 1일 각각 춘천과 강릉에서 열린 3·1절 기념 단축마라톤에 참가하고 있다. [연합뉴스·뉴시스]
4월 27일 실시되는 일부 광역단체장·국회의원 재·보궐선거는 이명박 대통령 집권 4년차의 민심을 재는 잣대로 여겨진다. 한나라당과 민주당 등은 선거 승리로 기세를 올리기 위해 경쟁력 있는 후보들을 찾는 일에 몰두하고 있다. 총리 후보자로 지명됐다가 국회 인사청문회 후 낙마한 김태호 전 경남도지사가 5일 김해공항으로 귀국하는 것도 이런 맥락에서다. 한나라당이 김해을 국회의원 재선거에 그를 출마시키는 방안을 검토하고 있기 때문이다. 엄기영 전 MBC 사장이 2일 한나라당에 입당하면서 강원도지사 보궐선거 출마를 공식 선언하는 것도 당 측과 교감이 있었다고 한다.

 김 전 지사는 한나라당 공천심사위원장인 원희룡 사무총장과 전화통화에서 “당의 고민은 충분히 알겠다. 김해 시민의 여론을 듣고 할 수 있는 일이 무엇인지 판단하겠다”는 말을 했다고 원 사무총장이 1일 밝혔다. 총리가 되지 못하자 지난해 10월 중국 베이징으로 유학을 떠난 김 전 지사가 조기 귀국하기로 한 건 출마 의사가 강하기 때문이라는 게 당 관계자들의 얘기다.

 원 총장은 “4·27 재·보선 후보는 여론조사든, 선거인단 방식이든 경선으로 결정하겠다”는 방침을 밝혔다. “특히 강원도지사 후보 경선은 4월 초께 18개 시·군에 투표소를 설치해 가능한 최대 규모의 도민 경선을 실시할 것”이라고 했다. 이에 따라 강원도지사 후보 경선엔 엄기영 전 MBC 사장과 최흥집 전 강원도 정무부지사, 최동규 한국생산성본부 회장 등이 나설 걸로 보인다. 한나라당은 김해을에서도 경선을 치른다는 방침이다. 원 총장은 “김 전 지사가 당의 경선(방침)에 대해 얘기를 듣고 있는 것 같다”며 “이미 뛰고 있는 (6명의) 예비후보들에 대한 걱정과 고민을 토로하더라”고 했다.

 정운찬 전 국무총리의 성남시 분당을 국회의원 보궐선거 출마 문제와 관련해 원 총장은 “월드컵에서 한국이 우승할 확률이 얼마냐”라며 “모든 상황이 유동적”이라고 말했다. 홍준표 최고위원이 “정 전 총리는 차라리 무소속 후보로 출마하라”고 하는 등 당내 반발 기류가 만만찮기 때문이다.


 민주당 사정은 좀 더 복잡하다. 인물난을 겪고 있는 데다 국민참여당 등 다른 야당과의 연대 문제를 해결하지 못하고 있어서다. 강원도지사 선거의 경우 의원직 사퇴서를 낸 최문순 의원의 출마로 가닥이 잡혔지만 나머지 지역에선 ‘야권 연대’ 문제로 꼬여 있다. 김해에선 그간 공을 들였던 김경수 봉하재단 사무국장이 불출마를 선언한 다음 적당한 후보를 찾지 못하고 있다. 그런 가운데 국민참여당은 이봉수 경남도당위원장을 후보로 내정하고 민주당에 양보를 요구하고 있다. 한나라당 강세 지역으로 꼽히는 성남 분당을에도 경쟁력 있는 인물이 없어 ‘손학규 대표 차출론’까지 나오는 상황이다. 손 대표 측은 “대표는 전국을 돌며 선거 지원을 해야 한다”며 그런 주장을 일축하고 있다.

당세가 강한 전남 순천의 경우 손 대표는 야권 연대를 위해 ‘무(無)공천’ 쪽으로 방향을 잡았으나 당내의 반발 여론에 부닥쳐 공천 여부조차 결정하지 못한 상태다.

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