Park must get ready for a grillingIndependent candidate Park Won-soon has won the ticket to run in the Oct. 26 Seoul mayoral by-election as the sole candidate of the opposition camp. Park has opened a new chapter in modern political history by taking on mainstream politics using support from citizens directly, rather than from a party. The relatively unknown progressive activist suddenly caught the limelight after receiving a highly public blessing from Ahn Cheol-soo, who was, himself, a popular choice for mayor before he decided not to run. Then, he beat a heavyweight contender from the main opposition Democratic Party.
This election will be the first time the DP does not field its own candidate for a major public office like the Seoul mayoralty. The upset underscores public angst at the state of political affairs and is a strong warning against politics as usual.
The coalition around Park encompasses various problems and risks. The DP, Democratic Labor Party and Park envision collective governance of the capital should Park win the election. But, deciding to support a single opposition candidate was an expedient political option that is rarely employed in advanced society today. Past coalition governments have been disastrous, as different fractions almost always clash over appointments and policies. Park is most eager to cancel expensive infrastructure projects that were aggressively pursued by former Mayor Oh Se-hoon. But to do so, Park would need support from the City Council, currently dominated by DP members. Dealing with the council would be one of Park’s biggest challenges.
Park’s hasty selection as a candidate also raises several concerns. For one, the public hardly knows Park, who participated in only one television debate before the primary. And even the DP, which has promised support, must cheer an outsider candidate as its star player, with little information about his strengths and weaknesses.
Park has gained public support largely because of his history as a civic activist and his relatively clean image. But the grilling starts now that he has entered the real game, and the devil is in the details.
Park has hitherto concentrated on selling his clean personal image rather than on developing concrete political positions. He must now clearly establish his policy line by expanding on why he opposes current policies and explaining what alternatives he proposes to replace them, complete with budgeting and action plans.