Candidates stump for April 24 by-elections

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Candidates stump for April 24 by-elections

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From left, Huh Joon-young of Saenuri, Jeong Tae-heung of UPP, Kim Ji-seon of PJP and independent Ahn Cheol-soo, candidates for Seoul’s Nowon C District. [NEWSIS]

The official campaign period for the April 24 by-elections to fill vacancies in public offices, including three National Assembly seats, began yesterday.

While the election is small in scale, political heavyweights are running to win lawmaker seats. It is also the first election to take place since the Park Geun-hye administration began, and should be a good gauge of voter sentiment.

The ruling Saenuri Party fielded candidates in all three legislative by-elections. In Seoul’s Nowon C District, Huh Joon-young, 60-year-old former National Police Agency commissioner and former CEO of Korail, will take on former presidential contender Ahn Cheol-soo, running as an independent candidate.

Kim Moo-sung, a political heavyweight and key associate of President Park, is representing Saenuri in Yeongdo, Busan, and former South Chungcheong Governor Lee One-koo is running in the Buyeo-Cheongyang District in South Chungcheong.

The largest opposition Democratic United Party did not field a candidate in Nowon C District to support independent Ahn’s bid. It fielded Kim Bi-oh in Yeongdo, Busan, and Hwang In-seok in Buyeo-Cheongyang in South Chungcheong.

Opinion polls have indicated that Ahn was a frontrunner in Nowon C District, while the Saenuri’s Kim and Lee are leading in Busan and South Chungcheong.

“The Saenuri Party has fielded candidates who are ready to sacrifice themselves for the districts,” said Representative Lee Sang-il, spokesman for the ruling party. “We believe the party will have a great outcome when the voters understand the genuineness of our candidates.”

Lee also issued a sharp attack toward Ahn.

“The voters will hand down a judgment when a candidate tries to use a by-election for fulfill his bigger political greed, although he had no tie to the area,” Lee said. “The voters want someone who will work hard to improve their lives, not some political engineer who repeatedly runs in elections to gain popularity and build up his influence.”

Ahn, an independent candidate who briefly ran in the December presidential election, came back from his three-month stay in the United States on March 11 and recently changed his address to Nowon C District to run in the area.

The Democratic United Party said yesterday it will try its best to fight the ruling party’s political heavyweights to send a message to the Park administration.

Ahn continued to reiterate his slogan of “new politics” as he formally launched his campaign yesterday.

While the by-elections are drawing little attention due to the ongoing North Korea crisis and their relatively easy-to-guess results, the outcomes are expected to serve as an important political indicator.

If Ahn manages to enter the National Assembly, a massive realignment will likely take place in the liberal arena, including the largest opposition DUP.

If Kim scores a victory in Yeongdo, Busan, to become a fifth-term lawmaker, it will also bring about a change in the power structure of the Saenuri leadership.

Although he is currently holding no leadership position for the ruling party, he is a long-time associate of President Park and headed her presidential campaign.

In South Chungcheong, victory by Lee is expected to strengthen his influence in the region. A native of South Chungcheong, Lee spent his entire career in the region. After working in the local governments, Lee served as a lawmaker for the region for two terms and South Chungcheong governor from 2006 to 2009.

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

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