Primary rivals put differences aside

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Primary rivals put differences aside

Saenuri lawmaker Chung Mong-joon and former Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik, two of the three ruling party candidates vying for nomination in the Seoul mayoral race, vowed yesterday to refrain from negatively attacking one another.

Those pledges come just four days before the Saenuri Party primary that will decide who will go up against incumbent Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy, in the June local elections. It also follows a slew of mud-slinging that included double lawsuits over illegal campaign activities.

Chung took the initiative in calling a truce and held a press conference yesterday to announce that he would drop his suit in which he claimed that Kim violated the national campaign law by spreading false information and having his campaign managers make phone calls to persuade constituents to vote for him.

“I propose that two candidates - Kim Hwang-sik and Lee Hye-hoon - halt their negative election campaign for the sake of victory in the real election,” Chung said. “It’s been forecast that the Saenuri will have a hard time in this election. We can succeed only if party members join forces and select a competitive candidate for the Seoul mayoral race.”

In response, one of Kim’s aides said his campaign office was also considering withdrawing his libel suit against Representative Chung.

Representative Lee’s camp was not available for comment.

The Seoul mayoral race is the most watched contest in the local polls, and the public’s disappointment with the government’s poor handling of the Sewol ferry disaster has dealt a blow to the Saenuri’s potential contenders.

A survey jointly conducted by the JoongAng Ilbo and Gallup Korea from May 1 to 5 showed that Mayor Park was ahead of Chung by 6.4 percentage points - with 45.6 percent compared to his ruling party rival’s 39.2 percent.

In the same survey conducted March 15, Park outpaced Chung by a minimal margin of 0.4 percentage points - just 42.5 percent to 42.1.

Chung’s declining popularity can most likely be attributed to a Facebook post made by his youngest son, in which the 18-year-old wrote that Koreans were uncivilized and called out some of the bereaved connected to the Sewol accident for throwing water bottles at Prime Minister Chung Hong-won.

The friction between representatives Chung and Kim increased following persistent affirmations by Kim that President Park Geun-hye was his strongest ally in the race. On May 2, Kim stirred controversy by stating in the presence of Chung and Lee that he was “aware that President Park encouraged me to run in the elections.”

Lee, who has had the lowest approval ratings so far, immediately fired back, saying Kim’s comments were risky and could result in the president being impeached. She also compared Kim’s remarks to a “nuclear bomb.”

On the same day, NPAD urged the National Election Commission to launch an investigation to verify the accuracy of Kim’s claim.

“If Kim’s remarks turn out to be true, that means President Park has violated her presidential duty to maintain neutrality in the election and could be subject to impeachment,” Park Kwang-on, the main opposition’s spokesman said in a press conference.

The Blue House remained silent over the matter until yesterday, despite the opposition and the left-wing media’s demands that the truth be disclosed.

Kim obtained a law degree from Seoul National University and started his career as a judge. He served as a Supreme Court justice and head of the Board of Audit and Inspection before becoming prime minister in 2010 under the previous Lee Myung-bak administration.

Born in Gwangju, South Jeolla, he has been touted by the Saenuri as the best candidate to secure votes from Seoul residents originally from his hometown, which is a traditional stronghold of the opposition.

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

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