Discontented Daegu may see biggest poll upset

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Discontented Daegu may see biggest poll upset

A steadfast conservative stronghold, Daegu could produce the biggest ever upset in the history of the country’s local elections. The prospect of a ruling party defeat in its mayoral election has risen in recent days on the back of growing regional dissatisfaction with the Park Geun-hye government and a sluggish economy over the past two decades.

President Park Geun-hye hails from Daegu and began her political career there in the National Assembly. The conservative city has never elected a liberal mayor, and for aspiring politicians, winning a Saenuri nomination to run in the mayoral race essentially guaranteed a ticket to office.

But now, the possibility of a swing isn’t far from reality: The latest poll shows former New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) lawmaker Kim Boo-kyum running neck-and-neck with his Saenuri opponent Kwon Young-jin in the lead-up to the vote.

In a survey of 869 adults in the city by the weekly Ilyo Shinmun, conducted Thursday to Friday, Kwon only led with 44.5 percent to Kim’s 43.7 percent, a gap that has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

The close race has intensified fears within the ruling party that it could lose what had been an unwavering support base for nearly half a century, especially amid panic that it could also lose Busan, another longtime stronghold, to the liberal bloc in the mayoral race.

The discontent toward the Saenuri Party and the government was hard to miss last week when the JoongAng Sunday met city constituents over four days.

“I will vote for anyone who does not bear the sign of the Saenuri. We need to show them [ruling party members] our resolve [for change],” said Kim Jung-yeop, a 45-year-old Daegu native.

The city’s declining economy, which hasn’t shown signs of reviving in about 20 years, appears to be the primary reason for the public’s anger. Daegu’s per capita gross regional domestic production stood at 15.6 million won ($15,240) last year, the lowest among the 17 municipal and provincial governments. It has ranked at the bottom for the last 19 consecutive years.

“Do I feel proud of Daegu having produced five presidents? We have no such pride anymore,” said a company worker in his 40s, who requested anonymity.

Former presidents Park Chung-hee, Chun Doo Hwan, Roh Tae-woo, Lee Myung-bak and incumbent Park Geun-hye all hailed from Daegu or the surrounding North Gyeongsang area.

“All my friends in my age group in Daegu earn less than 3 million won a month [far short of being enough to support a family]. To be honest with you, I feel a sense of shame being left out in the city.”

The government’s poor handling of the rescue operations following the Sewol ferry accident on April 16 also didn’t help ease increasing disenchantment among Daegu voters.

Aside from the perpetually sluggish local economy, it’s the personal merits of Kim, the NPAD candidate, that have attracted Daegu’s conservative voters, those interviewed by the JoongAng Sunday said.

“This is only possible because it is Kim Boo-kyum [running in the election],” said Park Jung-oh, a 64-year-old resident in Daeseo District. “If the opposition candidate was someone else, he would have had no chance of winning.”

Kim, who grew up in Daegu and graduated from Kyungbock High School, has a positive image in the community. The fact that Kim also graduated from the prestigious Seoul National University also appeals to many here.

Kim’s close draw with the Saenuri’s Kwon isn’t surprising considering his performance in the 2012 general election, in which he received more than 40 percent of the vote in the National Assembly elections. However, he lost the race to the ruling party candidate.

BY CHOI MIN-WOO, KANG JIN-KYU [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]

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