Seoul’s political shocks to influence by-electionThe ruling and opposition parties yesterday faced an increasingly complex political equation ahead of the October Seoul mayoral by-election after a graft scandal erupted around the city’s liberal education chief.
Only days after Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon stepped down from his post for failing to win a referendum to scale back free meals in schools, Kwak No-hyun, the superintendent of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education and the architect of the school lunch law, was accused of paying a rival in last year’s election to drop out of the race. Kwak admitted to having given the money but denied that it was related to the election.
The rival who received the money said he was paid to drop out.
The fast moving events have delivered consecutive blows to the ruling Grand National Party, of which Oh is a member, and the opposition Democratic Party, which has backed Kwak.
What’s at stake is who gets elected mayor of Seoul, a powerful position at any time but particularly with a general election coming up in April and the presidential election scheduled for December 2012. A by-election to fill the job will be held Oct. 26.
After Oh’s humiliating defeat in the referendum, it looked like the Democrats would easily win that by-election. But Kwak’s scandal could completely change the public’s mood.
The conservative Grand National Party, wounded by Oh’s failure, did not hesitate to attack Kwak, a champion of liberal policies, and demand he step down. If he quits by Sept. 30, a second by-election will be held in Seoul on Oct. 26 to choose his replacement.
“Kwak admitted giving the money because he knew he couldn’t get away with it,” GNP Chairman Hong Joon-pyo said yesterday. “He must immediately resign for his involvement in corruption.”
Other Grand Nationals also attacked Kwak. “Because he has flaunted his transparency and integrity, the disappointment is deeper,” GNP floor leader Hwang Woo-yea said.
The GNP yesterday began preparation for an aggressive by-election campaign.
“The stakes for the by-election [in October] just got higher, so the party decided to launch a campaign team today,” Hong said.
Another GNP leader, Nam Kyung-pil, predicted that the elections in October “can match the importance of a presidential election.” He urged the GNP to appeal to centrist and “floating” voters because he predicts there will be more of them in the aftermath of Kwak’s scandal.
If there are two by-elections in October, they will be bellwethers of next year’s legislative and presidential elections.
The Democratic Party was in shock over the Kwak scandal yesterday. Although the election of the city’s education superintendent is not always linked to party affiliations, the Democrats backed Kwak as a liberal candidate in last year’s elections.
Concerned that the scandal will hurt its chance in the Seoul mayoral by-election, the DP hurriedly tried to distance itself from Kwak.
“It is extremely shocking and regretful,” DP Chairman Sohn Hak-kyu said of the Kwak case at a party leadership meeting. He also demanded Kwak act “responsibly,” a de facto call for his resignation.
The party also faced an unexpected internal dispute as Sohn and other leaders engaged in a quarrel related to the upcoming by-election.
Sohn criticized representative Chun Jung-bae’s decision to give up his legislative seat to run in the mayoral by-election. Sohn said it was undesirable for the DP to lose a lawmaker ahead of a sensitive legislative session.
“Anyone who will run in the race should no longer give up the lawmaker post,” Sohn said.
Chun responded by fiercely attacking Sohn for criticizing him.
“When Sohn asked me to refrain from giving up the lawmaker seat, I first thought it was a loyal advice,” Chun said during a leadership meeting yesterday. “But he continued to pressure me and I feel insulted. I am skeptical about his political motive.”
Chung Dong-young, another senior DP leader backing Chun, also criticized Sohn’s attitudes.
After the quarrel, concerns rose inside the party about a rift in the leadership. “It is undesirable for the party to be seen as having an internal conflict at this sensitive time,” another DP leader, Park Joo-sun, said.
Meanwhile, the system of electing education superintendents was criticized in the wake of the Kwak scandal.
Representative Chung Doo-un, head of the GNP’s Youido Institute think tank, argued yesterday that the direct election of education chiefs should be stopped.
“Ever since we introduced direct elections for education superintendents, we repeatedly see corruption,” Chung said. “Introducing a system of running mates for Seoul’s mayoral candidates, who would become education chief, would be the best option.”
By Ser Myo-ja [firstname.lastname@example.org]
한글 관련 기사 [중앙일보]
곽노현 변수…10·26 보선 판 커지나
9월 30일 전 사퇴 땐 서울시장·교육감 동시 선거
야권에서도 퇴진압력을 받고 있는 곽노현 교육감이 9월 30일 이전에 사퇴하면 10월 26일 열리는 서울시장 보궐선거 때 교육감 선거도 함께 치러야 한다. 10·26 보궐선거의 몸집이 더욱 커지고 선거 구도도 복잡해지는 셈이다.
여야 모두 시장 후보에게 시너지 효과를 가져다 줄 교육감 후보가 필요하기 때문에 막후에서 복잡한 합종연횡이 벌어질 공산도 크다. 특히 교육 관련 이슈가 서울시장 선거에도 상당한 영향을 미칠 것으로 보인다.
29일 정치권에선 공정택 전 서울시교육감에 이어 곽노현 현 교육감도 선거 비리 혐의로 검찰 수사를 받게 됨에 따라 “막대한 비용이 들어가는 교육감 직선제를 폐지해야 한다”는 의견도 고개를 들고 있다.
실제로 지난해 16개 시·도 교육감 선거에 들어간 비용은 937억원에 이른다. 막대한 국고만 투입되는 게 아니라 곽 교육감에게 돈을 받은 박명기 교수처럼 교육감 선거에 나섰던 후보들이 빚더미에 오르는 사례가 많다. 지난해 교육감 선거의 경우 1인당 평균 선거비는 국고보전금액(9억4700만원)보다 평균 지출금액(11억5600만원)이 2억원 이상 많았다.
한나라당 여의도연구소장인 정두언 의원은 라디오 인터뷰에서 “교육감을 직선으로 뽑아서 생기는 피해가 너무 크다. 이번 기회에 여야 합의로 이것을 뜯어 고쳐야 한다”고 주장했다. 정 의원은 “서울시장과 교육감이 러닝 메이트로 가는 것이 가장 합리적인 대안이며 그래야 자치단체장이 교육에서 더 책임 있게 일을 할 수 있다”고 말했다.
같은 당 조전혁 의원도 기자회견을 열어 “곽 교육감 사태는 교육감 직선제가 잉태하고 있는 예고된 재앙”이라며 “지금 여야를 떠나 많은 의원들이 교육감 직선제는 폐지해야 한다는 소신을 갖고 있지만 정파적인 이해득실 때문에 드러내놓고 얘기를 못하고 있다”고 주장했다.
조 의원은 “현실적으로 교육감 후보들은 정당과 손잡지 않고선 선거를 치를 수 없다”며 “그렇게 당선된 교육감은 자신의 정치적 기반에 영합한 정책을 양산하기 때문에 정책이 정치논쟁으로 비화하고 국민들이 엄청난 사회적 비용을 부담하게 된다”고 지적했다.
◆선거비용의 보전=공직 선거에서 일정 득표 이상을 얻은 후보자에 한해 정당하게 지출한 선거운동 경비는 국고에서 지원해준다. 국고지원 비율은 선거법 제122조의 2에 따라 15% 이상 득표자는 선거비용의 전액을, 10~15% 득표자는 50%까지 보전해준다.
More in Politics
Lawmaker forfeits PPP membership amid corruption allegations
Moon's UN speech falls flat
Moon proposes formally ending Korean War in keynote UN speech
Prosecutors raid homes of Choo's son and others implicated in scandal
Moon talks up Korea's Covid response in UN address