Candidates register for June 4 local elections

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Candidates register for June 4 local elections

Hopefuls for the June local elections officially registered their candidacies and kicked off low-key campaigns in the wake of the tragic sinking of the Sewol.

As of 7:30 p.m. yesterday, a total of about 8,840 would-be candidates declared their intentions to run in elections scheduled for June 4 to the National Election Commission over the last two days. The competition rate for 3,952 seats is about two to one on average, the NEC said.

The number of eligible voters reached an unprecedented 41 million, according to the Ministry of Security and Public Administration, out of the country’s 51 million population. About 40 percent of the voters are aged 50 or older.

While the country is still reeling from the man-made disaster of the sunken ferry, which claimed at least 284 lives as of yesterday evening, both the ruling Saenuri Party and opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy were focusing on that issue.

Public safety was the top priority among the top 10 pledges released by both parties on Tuesday.

Facing bitter criticism of the government’s slow and bureaucratic response to the disaster, the ruling party vowed to punish the so-called bureaucratic mafia, or gwanfia, which refers to widespread collusion between government offices and the industries they regulate.

“We should prepare comprehensive, preventive measures for an overhaul of the entire country, including figuring out the truth about the sinking and compensating the bereaved families,” Lee Wan-koo, floor leader of the ruling party, said at a party meeting yesterday.

Although the NPAD stressed public safety as well, their focus was on attacking the ruling party for the poor handling of the ferry accident.

“It has been a month since the ferry accident, but the disaster is still ongoing,” Kim Han-gill, co-chairman of the NPAD, said yesterday at a party meeting. “We can still hear the desperate voices of families shouting the names of their children at Paengpok Harbor.”

The other co-leader of the party, Ahn Cheol-soo, commented, “If the president and the government still don’t know what really went wrong, it is totally futile to announce preventive measures.” Park Young-sun, the newly elected floor leader of the party, took an even more aggressive stand against the Park Geun-hye administration, saying, “The reason the public is still angry about the disaster is because the Blue House and the government has not changed themselves at all.”

Political observers are closely watching older conservative voters and those living in the Gyeongsang provinces to see if their support for the ruling party is maintained or eroded. An upcoming statement by President Park Geun-hye about the Sewol disaster is expected to have an effect.

But in Busan, a longtime stronghold of the Saenuri Party, support seems to be swinging to a liberal candidate, Oh Keo-don. Oh is running as a liberal independent, not for the NPAD, the largest liberal opposition party. Oh, a former maritime affairs minister, is a veteran civil servant who worked in the Busan city government for most of his career. He is a graduate of Seoul National University and is a former president of the Busan-based Korea Marine Ocean University. He ran for Busan mayor as a candidate of the then-ruling Open Uri Party in 2006, but was defeated by Hur Nam-sik, a Grand National Party candidate who obtained more than 60 percent of the votes to be re-elected Busan mayor.

A poll by JTBC and the Hyundai Research Institute surveying 988 voters between May 5 and 12 shows the race in conservative Busan will be neck-and-neck between Oh and Suh Byung-soo from the Saenuri Party. Oh obtained 34.3 percent against Suh’s 32.7 percent, while the margin of error was plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.

“Voters in Busan and other South Gyeongsang regions have showed relatively more support for liberal candidates, ” Yoon Hee-woong, an analyst at the political consulting group Min Consulting, told the Korea JoongAng Daily by phone.

“The sinking of the Sewol boosted support for the opposition, and the fact that Oh is an independent also made people feel free to support him.”

BY KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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