Na gets big boost after Park plans to back her

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Na gets big boost after Park plans to back her

In a huge boost to Grand National Party Representative Na Kyung-won’s mayoral campaign, senior aides to Representative Park Geun-hye said yesterday that the former GNP chairwoman and presidential front-runner intends to support Na’s bid for Seoul City Hall.

The disclosure, if true, would end weeks of whispers and “will she or won’t she” speculation about the intentions of the political heavyweight, who is known as the “queen of elections” for her make-or-break endorsements because of her outsized influence on conservative voters.

Na became the GNP’s official mayoral nominee yesterday.

“It is my understanding that Park has decided to support Na’s campaign, rather than staying out of it,” a key Park loyalist told the JoongAng Ilbo, asking for anonymity citing the sensitive nature of the matter.

The aide said Park could risk facing a cold response from the party as well as from conservative voters if she decided against publicly supporting the ruling party in the Oct. 26 mayoral by-election.

Park’s support would stand in stark contrast to her chilling silence in former Mayor Oh Se-hoon’s political gamble on the city’s free school lunch program - a decision many Oh supporters cite as contributing to the referendum’s failure and Oh’s downfall.

“The by-election is taking place because of Oh Se-hoon’s resignation, and its outcome will impact next year’s general and presidential elections,” the aide said. “Therefore, it has become an election that Park cannot avoid.”

The aide conceded the potential risks Park faced in supporting Na in light of the high popularity of liberal candidates, especially independent liberal activist Park Won-woon, in the mayoral race.

“But it is more important for Park to be appreciated for giving her best, regardless of the outcome,” he said.

Another Park aide was more reserved in describing the former presidential candidate’s intentions, saying that it would be ideal if the GNP leadership officially asked Park for her support in the campaign.

“It is also important for the party to officially decide its position on some disputed welfare issues such as the free school lunch program to make it easier for Park to join the campaign,” he said.

The aide dismissed earlier speculation of a feud between her loyalists and Na, with whispers that President Park Chung Hee’s daughter would not want another high-profile female politician in her midst in the run-up to next year’s presidential election.

“Through the upcoming election, Park will stress and persuade the public that a female politician is not an obstacle but actually a great benefit to state affairs,” he said.

In an apparent appeal for support to Park, Na had told MBC Radio yesterday that “a female Seoul mayor will be helpful in opening up the path for a female president.”

Another senior GNP lawmaker, Representative Chun Doo-un, also urged Park to support the GNP’s mayoral campaign in an interview with PBS Radio. “This is not a matter of choice,” Chung said. “It is a matter of responsibility and duty.”

Park is likely to declare her support for Na after the liberals hold a primary to field a single candidate in the mayoral race. Democratic Party nominee Representative Park Young-sun, independent liberal activist Park Won-woon and Choi Gyu-yeop of the minor Democratic Labor Party will compete in the primary, scheduled for Monday.

Asked Tuesday if she would support Na’s campaign, Park refused to state her position, only saying, “Let’s not talk about it today.”


By Shin Yong-ho, Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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