All eyes on Bundang in by-elections

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All eyes on Bundang in by-elections

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Kang Jae-sup (left) of the ruling Grand National Party and Sohn Hak-kyu (right) of the main opposition Democratic Party campaign for the National Assembly seat representing Bundang B District in Gyeonggi yesterday. Voters cast their ballots today for 38 by-elections across the nation, and Bundang is considered the most high-profile race. By Cho Mun-gyu


As voters head to the polls starting at 6 a.m. today for 38 by-elections, the greatest attention is on the race for a National Assembly seat in Bundang, the most politically significant race ahead of next year’s general and presidential elections.

The 38 positions being filled include National Assembly seats in Bundang B District of Gyeonggi, Gimhae B District of South Gyeongsang and Suncheon in South Jeolla, as well as the governorship of Gangwon.

Voters are to cast ballots from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m., and the results are expected around 11 p.m. tonight, the National Election Commission said. Voter turnout is expected to be higher than the average 35 percent in past by-elections. A survey conducted by the commission on April 17 showed that 64.1 percent of eligible voters were planning to turn out.

In Bundang, the leadership of the ruling Grand National Party and the opposition Democratic Party campaigned through yesterday, accompanied by celebrity politicians. That race pits two political heavyweights against each other: former GNP Chairman Kang Jae-sup and incumbent DP Chairman Sohn Hak-kyu, and it’s believed to be neck and neck.

GNP Chairman Ahn Sang-soo and dozens of high-profile lawmakers showed up yesterday in Bundang to encourage voters to support Kang. Likewise, the DP sent about 40 lawmakers to Bundang, including floor leader Park Jie-won, to back Sohn. Until yesterday, Sohn had campaigned alone, holding more intimate meetings with voters to differentiate his style from the GNP’s Kang.

Both the GNP and the DP believe the Kang-Sohn race is a crucial litmus test of the political environment leading up to the general and presidential elections next year.

If the GNP suffers a defeat in Bundang today, its lawmakers, particularly those from the capital region, will likely demand a change in Ahn’s leadership. Senior party, government and Blue House officials who backed Kang’s nomination will also find themselves in the hot seat.

Kang’s defeat would also mean that Sohn will enter the legislature and build a stronger foundation for a possible presidential run.

A GNP victory in Bundang, in contrast, would strike a serious blow to Sohn’s presidential ambitions. He would lose backing within his party and his presidential aspirations would be challenged by his liberal rival Rhyu Si-min of the People’s Participation Party.

If Sohn loses, the GNP will likely keep its leadership under Ahn until next year’s legislative election, and President Lee Myung-bak’s control over the party and state affairs will remain stable.

Korean voters have a history of awarding victories to opposition parties in by-elections, with a recent exception. During the Roh Moo-hyun administration, the ruling Uri Party lost all by-elections that were held: in April and October of 2005 and July and October of 2006.

In the April 2009 by-elections, the GNP suffered a crushing defeat, and then-GNP Chairman Park Hee-tae resigned and President Lee was forced to reshuffle his cabinet.

In last July’s by-elections, however, the trend was reversed, and the GNP won five out of eight legislative seats, bolstering Ahn’s leadership over the party.

The GNP and DP made last-minute appeals to Bundang voters yesterday.

“We will try to push forward reform while maintaining stability,” Ahn told voters at a subway station.

“The GNP is using obsolete tactics of smear campaigns against Sohn, but it won’t be able to tarnish his qualifications,” DP’s floor leader Park said yesterday.


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



한글 관련 기사 [중앙일보]

정치 지도 바꿀 ‘분당 우파’의 선택은


4·27 재·보궐 선거 결과는 정치권에 큰 파장을 미칠 전망이다. 특히 성남 분당을과 김해을의 보궐선거 결과는 내년 총선·대선에도 상당한 영향을 미칠 것으로 보인다.

명지대 윤종빈(정치학) 교수는 26일 “막판까지 초박빙 승부가 이어져 결과를 가늠하기 어렵고 거물들이 선거판에 뛰어들었기 때문에 선거 결과에 따라 어느 한쪽은 큰 상처를 입게 될 것”이라 고 말했다.

한나라당이 ‘천당보다 좋다’는 분당에서 선택을 받지 못할 경우 여권은 내년 총선·대선과 관련해 불안감을 떨치지 못할 것이다. 분당을의 패배는 내년 총선에서 한나라당의 아성인 서울 동남벨트(서초·강남·송파·강동)의 수성도 장담할 수 없다는 걸 의미하는 만큼 서울과 수도권 의원들은 크게 동요할 걸로 보인다. 이 경우 당 지도부 사퇴론, 당·정·청 개편론이 분출할 가능성이 크다는 게 정치권의 관측이다. 김해을, 강원도에서도 패한다면 한나라당은 패닉상태에 빠질 게 틀림없다. 그러면 이명박 대통령과 결별하자는 주장도 나올지 모른다.

한나라당이 분당을에서 승리할 경우 일단 한숨을 돌리게 된다. 하지만 강재섭 후보가 신승하는 결과가 나온다면 여권은 여전히 위기감을 느낄 수밖에 없을 것이다. 분당을에서 겨우 이긴다고 해도 김해을이나 강원도에서 패하는 곳이 생길 경우 당내에선 쇄신론이 제기될 가능성이 크다.

민주당의 명운은 분당을에 달려 있다. 손 대표가 이곳에서 승리한다면 야권의 대표주자로 확실하게 자리잡게 될 뿐 아니라 당내 대통령 후보 경쟁에서도 앞서가게 된다. 하지만 손 대표가 패배할 경우엔 대표직에서 물러나야 할지 모른다. 그가 당을 위해 희생하는 모양새로 분당을에 출마한 건 사실이지만 그가 책임을 진다고 했기 때문이다. 손 대표의 패배가 대통령 예비후보로서의 당내 위상을 크게 떨어뜨리지 않을 수도 있지만 야권에선 ‘손학규 한계론’이 대두할 가능성이 큰 만큼 그에겐 또 다시 시련의 계절이 올 걸로 보인다.

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