Tightest races went down to mat

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Tightest races went down to mat

The governor races in Gyeonggi, Gangwon and North Chungcheong and the mayoral race in Busan went down to the wire yesterday morning because they were the closest in the 2014 local elections.

In Gyeonggi, the ruling Saenuri Party’s Nam Kyung-pil, a five-term lawmaker from Suwon in Gyeonggi, and the opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy’s Kim Jin-pyo waged a seesaw race that became the final of the 17 main mayoral and gubernatorial races to be declared early yesterday morning.

Although Kim outpaced Nam by 2 percentage points in the joint exit poll of broadcasting stations, Nam won by a margin of 0.8 percentage point to succeed incumbent Gyeonggi Governor Kim Moon-soo, a Saenuri Party member who is considered to be a potential presidential candidate.

The victory also made Nam, part of a younger generation within his party, a possible presidential contender in 2017.

“I will accept the victory with a heavy heart,” he said yesterday. “I will respect the opposition party and will try to prioritize discussions when it comes to governance.”

The gap between Lee Si-jong, the re-elected North Chungcheong governor from the NPAD, and rival Yoon Jin-sik of the ruling Saenuri Party narrowed to as many as three votes at one time.

Lee eventually beat Yoon by a margin of 2.1 percentage points - 49.8 percent versus 47.7 percent. Lee and Yoon, both from Chungju in North Chungcheong, are friends of 50 years.

Four posts in Chungcheong - North and South Chungcheong governors and the mayors of Daejeon and Sejong City - were won by the NPAD, which neither of the main parties had forecasted.

Daejeon and Sejong were considered to belong to the Saenuri.

Lee Wan-koo, floor leader of the Saenuri, said the party’s defeat in the region is probably due to discontent by civil servants over President Park Geun-hye’s plan to eradicate red tape in bureaucracy. Sejong is an administrative hub, or a mini-capital city for Korea, with the majority of its ministries located there.

In Gangwon, the NPAD’s Choi Moon-soon and Saenuri’s Choi Heung-jip exchanged top spots several times in the course of ballot counting. The former defeated the latter by a 1.6 percentage margin.

Even before the count, particularly tight matches had been expected for the governor of Gyeonggi, a region near Seoul that is considered to be a barometer of national opinion - as well as the governor of North Chungcheong, located in the center of South Korea.

But Busan, a traditional stronghold of conservatives, deviated from predictions. Suh Byung-soo of the Saenuri saw his victory confirmed way past midnight following a tight match against independent candidate Oh Keo-don, who has contested the post three times in vain. Although Suh won, their gap was merely 1.3 percentage points. Suh, an economics Ph.D., is a member of the Park faction of the Saenuri Party. Both are Sogang University alumni.

The later-than-usual ballot count was largely due to the early voting system and its logistics, according to the Korea National Election Commission.

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

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