June elections will be a test for the ruling party

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June elections will be a test for the ruling party


Left: Leaders of the ruling Saenuri Party, led by Chairman Hwang Woo-yea, walk yesterday to the Seoul National Cemetery in Dongjak District, southern Seoul, to pay their respects to the nation’s patriotic martyrs. [NEWS1] Right: Leaders of the main opposition Democratic Party, led by Chairman Kim Han-gill, pay their respects at the tomb of late President Roh Moo-hyun yesterday in Bongha Village, Gimhae, South Gyeongsang. [NEWS1]

The 2014 local elections are expected to serve as a sort of mid-term exam for the Park Geun-hye administration, with a nationwide survey conducted by the JoongAng Ilbo predicting neck-and-neck races in most major cities and provinces.

Local elections are generally considered to be advantageous for the ruling party, however, in 2010, the opposition Democratic Party recorded major victories. If they manage to continue that trend, it could serve a serious political blow to the Park government.

The political sphere also saw an unprecedented change last year, with independent lawmaker Ahn Cheol-soo - a former presidential contender with wide support from young liberal voters - announcing his plans to establish a new political party.

The JoongAng Ilbo polled 6,800 voters around the country from Dec. 15 to Dec. 24, 2013 - excluding the Sejong special administrative city - and during the 10-day survey, the newspaper asked voters about their choices for the 16 metropolitan city mayors and provincial governors.

According to the poll, the ruling Saenuri Party was ahead in five districts in its traditional strongholds in the Gyeongsang region, though no clear front-runners were seen in other areas.

In most parts of the country, the possible alliance between the Democratic Party and Ahn’s new party influenced voters’ decisions, the poll showed. If an electoral alliance is formed, the unified liberal candidate could see a significant advantage. However, if their candidates run separately, the liberal votes would be split, giving the Saenuri Party a likely win.

The capital region is considered the biggest battleground in the June 4 local elections.

For Seoul, the Saenuri Party has yet to determine a candidate to challenge the incumbent Democratic Mayor Park Won-soon. Currently, Representative Chung Mong-joon and former Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik are considered the most competitive contenders from the ruling party. According to the JoongAng Ilbo poll, Chung had 19.3 percent of voter support, while Kim recorded 16.9 percent.

In the simulated two-way race, Park was ahead of both Chung and Kim by up to 6 percentage points. The results showed that if former Representative Lee Kye-ahn runs as the candidate for Ahn’s new party in a three-way race, Lee will finish third.

For Incheon, former Mayor Ahn Sang-soo was seen as the most competitive candidate to challenge the re-election of Democratic incumbent Mayor Song Yong-gil. Saenuri Chairman Hwang Woo-yea, Representatives Yoon Sang-hyun, Lee Hak-jae and Park Sang-eun and Security and Public Administration Minister Yoo Jeong-bok were also considered possible Saenuri contenders, voters told the JoongAng Ilbo.

While Song and any Saenuri candidate received similar support - in the 30 percent range - about 19 percent of the voters said they would support an undecided candidate from Ahn’s new party, indicating that Song’s re-election would likely be deterred if there weren’t an electoral alliance.

In Gyeonggi, current Governor Kim Moon-soo of the Saenuri Party made it clear that he will not run for a third term. Competition is fierce for the ruling party’s ticket, with Representative Nam Kyung-pil the front-runner; in the Democratic Party, Representative Kim Jin-pyo is in the lead.

Strong voter support for Ahn’s new political party was recorded in Gwangju, South and North Jeolla.

Gwangju’s Mayor Kang Un-tae, a Democrat, is seeking re-election, and Kim Sung-ho, the former welfare minister, and Yoon Jang-hyun, a key political ally of Ahn, are seeking to represent the independent lawmaker’s new party in the race. In simulations of a two-way race between Kang and Kim or Yoon, the new political party’s candidate received the most support.

In South Jeolla, incumbent Governor Park Joon-yung is ineligible for re-election after serving three consecutive terms. DP Representative Lee Nak-yon led the poll with 27.7 percent, while Representative Joo Seung-yong trailed behind with 24.2 percent. In a simulated race, Lee led the two-way match against a candidate from Ahn’s new political party.

In North Jeolla, Democratic Mayor Kim Wan-joo was the front-runner with 29.4 percent of voter support, while Jeonju Mayor Song Ha-jin came in second with 20 percent. In a simulated race between Kim and former lawmaker Cho Bae-sook, of Ahn’s new party, Kim received 38.6 percent, while Cho got 31.3 percent.

The central region of Daejeon, South and North Chungcheong will also see hotly contested races, with Saenuri Party having vowed to wrest dominance from the Democrats.

Daejeon’s Mayor Yum Hong-chul, from the ruling party, stated that he will not be seeking re-election, and several Saenuri candidates are competing to run on the ticket. Among them, Representative Park Seoung-hyo emerged as the front-runner. In the DP, former lawmaker Kwon Sun-taik was leading the internal race.

In South Chungcheong, Democratic Governor An Hee-jung maintained steady support. In a two-way race simulation against Saenuri Representative Hong Moon-pyo, An received 40.6 percent and Hong got 29.9 percent. In another simulation against Chung Jin-suk, the National Assembly’s secretary general, An recorded 40.6 percent and Chung received 28.2 percent.

In North Chungcheong, Lee Gi-yong, head of the province’s education office, is leading the race to win the Saenuri ticket to challenge the current governor Lee Si-jong of the DP.

The Saenuri Party clearly led the poll in Daegu, North Gyeongsang, Busan, Ulsan and South Gyeongsang. In Busan, Hur Nam-sik, the incumbent mayor affiliated with the ruling party, is ineligible for re-election after serving three consecutive terms, and Representative Suh Byung-soo led the Saenuri’s internal race to clinch ruling party’s ticket.

In Ulsan, Park Maeong-woo, the current Saenuri mayor, is also serving his third term, and Representative Kang Ghil-boo is the front-runner in the ruling party’s internal race.

South Gyeongsang Governor Hong Joon-pyo scored 32.8 percent in the poll, while Changwon Mayor Park Wan-su followed with 23.6 percent. In Daegu, Mayor Kim Bum-il, a Saenuri politician, led the poll.

North Gyeongsang Governor Kim Kwan-yong recorded 39 percent in the survey based on his reputation as current leader.

In Gangwon, Democratic Mayor Choi Moon-soon will likely face off against the Saenuri Party’s Representative Kweon Seong-dong, according to the poll. In a simulation of a two-way race, Kwon took the lead with 39.6 percent, while Choi recorded 33.3 percent.

Competition is also fierce to win the Saenuri Party’s ticket for the Jeju gubernatorial race. Former Jeju Mayor Kim Bang-hun, former Governor Kim Tae-hwan and the incumbent Mayor Woo Keun-min are neck and neck. Woo, formerly a Democrat, left the party in 2010 shortly before the election. He won his post as an independent lawmaker and joined the Saenuri Party in November 2013.

In the Democratic Party, Representative Kim Woo-nam is the clear front-runner to represent the largest opposition party in the gubernatorial race. The simulation between Saenuri and Democratic candidates was also incredibly close. If incumbent Mayor Woo represents the Saenuri Party, he will score 32.4 percent against the Democratic Party’s Kim, who received 36.8 percent, according to the poll.

If it fields a candidate, Ahn’s new political party received 11.6 percent and an electoral alliance, once again, will play a crucial role in Jeju.

BY SHIN CHANG-UN, SER MYO-JA [myoja@joongang.co.kr]
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