Mayoral election could change the tide in Busan

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Mayoral election could change the tide in Busan

Busan’s mayoral candidates are running neck-and-neck in the lead up to the June 4 local elections, according to recent figures, with support appearing to be swinging away from the ruling party.

Voters in the country’s second-largest city, a traditional Saenuri Party stronghold, appear to be leaning slightly toward Oh Keo-don, the liberal opposition contender, deepening concerns for conservative candidate Suh Byung-soo and the ruling party, which has faced growing public criticism in the aftermath of the Sewol ferry disaster.

A win there by the opposition would be a symbolic change and a significant shift in the political landscape in the second year of Park Geun-hye’s presidency.

Oh Keo-don, a unified candidate of the liberal bloc, is waging a neck-and-neck race with the Saenuri’s Suh Byung-soo, deepening concerns for the ruling party, which has faced growing public criticism in the aftermath of the Sewol ferry crisis.

In a poll of 1,079 eligible voters in Busan, Oh came in ahead with an approval rating of 40.8 percent compared to Suh’s 39.3 percent, a gap with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

The survey was conducted by broadcaster Busan MBC and Hangil Research from Sunday to Monday.

A close race between Suh and Oh - who is running as a liberal independent and gained more ground by opting not to affiliate himself with the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) - has raised fears within the Saenuri that it could lose both the Seoul and Busan mayoral elections to the opposition.

“Just like Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, Busan needs a fresh figure for its long-term growth,” said Kim, 70, who has thrown his support behind the liberal Oh.

Oh’s popularity among the coastal city’s voters despite running on a liberal ticket stems from his 30 years of public service in Busan. Over the past three decades, he’s served as an acting mayor of the city and the chairman of the Busan-based Korea Maritime and Ocean University. His experience as maritime affairs minister has also served to enforce public trust in his expertise in maritime affairs regardless of his center-left political ideology.

The city’s sluggish economy in recent years has also convinced a number of voters that it’s time for a change.

At the Jagalchi fish market, Korea’s largest seafood market, Cho Yong-bok, 60, who has worked as a maintenance manager for 10 years, pointed toward an empty parking lot. “It used to be filled with 20 to 30 buses unloading tourists. But as you see, it’s empty now.”

Lee Suk-ja, 60, one of the fish stall owners, added, “We need to vote for a person who can really do the work for the city no matter whether he is a Saenuri or NPAD candidate.”

Other city residents expressed disappointment with what they believed was a lack of initiative by the ruling party.

Lee Yong-min, 35, voiced his disappointment with the Saenuri, saying it has “done little to improve the city” despite its government reign in Busan.

And the Sewol disaster did not help improve the Saenuri’s image, he added.

The ferry accident last month left more than 300 people dead or missing after the ship, carrying 476 passengers, abruptly began to list and then capsized in waters off the nation’s southwestern coast.

But despite the strong criticism against the administration for its poor handling of the crisis in the days following the incident, others said they would still vote for the ruling party, emphasizing that the government needed support during tough times.

“I feel sorry for the ruling party [for the blame it’s received over the Sewol disaster],” said 56-year-old Chung Tae-joon, a taxi driver. “One mistake by one official while the rest are doing fine can really screw all the government’s work.

“I think I will choose Suh.”

BY HA SUN-YOUNG, KANG JIN-KYU [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]



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