[Viewpoint] Goliath versus the novice

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[Viewpoint] Goliath versus the novice

The most intriguing battlefield in the April 11 legislative election will be Busan’s Sasang District, where oppositionist Moon Jae-in, chief of staff to the late President Roh Moo-hyun, will compete against a 27-year-old inexperienced female candidate, Sohn Su-jo, from the ruling camp. Moon, head of the Roh Moo-hyun Foundation who has been topping polls among potential presidential candidates from the Democratic United Party, could feel offended by the Saenuri Party fielding a political rookie and turning a serious contest ahead of the December presidential ballot into an entertaining hoopla.

Some shrug off the bout as a joke between a heavyweight and flyweight. DUP executive Moon Sung-keun recently said Saenuri’s choice of a weak novice suggests the ruling party was looking for a newsmaker because it had no chance of winning in the district. From the polls so far, he may be right that Sohn is no match for Moon.

In a poll by the JoongAng Ilbo and Embrain, the DUP’s nominee beat Sohn 44.5 percent to 25.1 percent. In one by Hankyoreh and the Korea Society Opinion Institute, he beat her 47.2 percent to 34.2 percent. Sohn hardly appears to pose any threat.

But as in the battle between David and Goliath, size and experience are not always all that matter.

The ruling party must have contemplated hard before choosing Sohn to fight against a possible presidential candidate from the opposition. If it fielded a similar heavyweight, it would be raising the stakes in the political match. If Moon defeated one of ruling party’s high-profile politicians, his popularity would only rise.

Former ruling party head Hong Joon-pyo, nominee for the Dongdaemun District in central Seoul, proposed taking on Moon at Sasang, but was refused. Park Geun-hye, head of the Saenuri’s leadership council, laughed and said, “What imagination you have!” when a reporter asked if the party intentionally picked a weak candidate against Moon in a press conference sponsored by the journalists group the Kwanhun Club. Saenuri must have a secret strategy.

The party has been studying who would compete best against Moon from many perspectives and conducted numerous opinion polls. Sohn lagged in the polls. But the party nevertheless decided she had the potential to grow. Her popularity has been on the rise ever since her name became known to the public.

Many in Sasang District still consider Sohn too young and inexperienced to push ahead with things that need to be done in their district. But there is still time, and Sohn can change the tide in her favor depending on her efforts. When Sohn applied for the nomination, she barely registered with the public, with approval ratings of 1 percent to 2 percent.

But she was nominated and now enjoys approval ratings of around 30 percent largely thanks to refreshing and novel campaign ideas and plans. She said she will spend her entire savings of 30 million won ($26,900) on her campaign and won’t recruit any campaigner other than her brother, who will be her driver, photographer and secretary. She said she will refuse a free ride even if she is offered a proportional representation legislative seat. She impressed the public by trying to be different from mainstream politicians.

She stands out from among the young candidates shortlisted for proportional representation by the DUP. One female candidate for a DUP seat, when asked to write a letter to Chung Bong-joo, former party member and popular podcast host now serving a prison sentence for defaming the president, wrote that she would send a photograph of herself in a bikini to protest for his release. So far, Sohn is presenting herself in a more prudent and less exhibitionist manner.

Upon hearing the news that he was going head to head with a complete novice, Moon said that could be uniquely challenging. But other party members are not so modest. Some candidates in other southern constituencies may even court Moon’s support for their campaigns, saying that his race is a done deal.

Moon should avoid such offers. He could be criticized for not fighting hard and only using the votes from Sasang residents for his presidential ambitions. If the public agrees with such an accusation, Moon may not get such an easy win. His losing would carry entirely more weight and consequences than Sohn’s defeat.

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Sang-il
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