Saenuri mayoral candidates vie in TV debate

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Saenuri mayoral candidates vie in TV debate

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Kim Hwang-sik, left, the former prime minister, Chung Mong-joon, right, a seven-term lawmaker, and Lee Hye-hoon, center, a two-term lawmaker, pose together yesterday at MBC in Yeouido, western Seoul, before participating in a live TV debate for the Saenuri primary. [NEWSIS]

The three Saenuri candidates vying for the party nomination in the upcoming Seoul mayoral race gathered yesterday for their first live televised discussion, during which they set about laying out their agendas and directly going after one another’s weaknesses.

Former Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik, seven-term lawmaker Chung Mong-joon and two-term lawmaker Lee Hye-hoon took part in the 80-minute debate, which was held at MBC in Yeouido, western Seoul, and broadcast live on a few other TV stations.

Only one of them will go on to compete in the June 4 local elections’ most closely watched race against incumbent Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy, who is running for re-election.

During the discussions, Kim attempted to make an issue out of Representative Chung’s ownership and majority stake in top shipbuilder Hyundai Heavy Industries.

When asked by Kim how he was coping with the generally negative sentiment among Koreans against those who grab both fortune and political power, Chung answered: “There are politicians who take advantage of ordinary citizens and those who help elevate them to a higher social class. The competitive positioning of the chaebol [conglomerates] versus general public is not right.”

Chung, the son of Hyundai-Kia Motor Group founder Chung Ju-yung, served as chairman of Hyundai Heavy Industries and remains the No. 1 shareholder. He currently leads approval ratings among the three Saenuri candidates.

“Isn’t this the first time you’ve run in an election?” Chung asked Kim cheekily. “Is it giving you a hard time?”

Kim, a former judge, passed the moment smoothly, however, simply answering affirmatively.

He formerly served as prime minister for nearly three years under the Lee Myung-bak administration, though many observers had claimed he is an amateur when it comes to the game of politics.

Representative Lee, the sole female candidate, noted the problems associated with Kim’s promise to expand commercial areas in regions outside of Gangnam District, or southern Seoul, and with Chung’s pledge to resume the once-ditched Yongsan development project in central Seoul. Lee earned a doctorate from the University of California, Los Angeles.

“There are candidates who have stayed in high positions their entire lives, who are not at all interested in Seoul citizens’ lives and who are wasting precious tax money,” she said. “I will save taxes and will move Seoul forward.”

When asked by their host whether they could genuinely promise to fulfill their four-year term as mayor, all three of them responded with a resounding yes.

Chung is suspected of running for Seoul mayor as a foothold to challenge for the presidency - which he has done once already - though he has consistently denied those allegations.

The TV discussion is traditionally considered the first-stage battle in the primary. There will be three more public talks.

BY SEO JI-EUN [spring@joongang.co.kr]


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