Lawmakers will vie for up to 18 by-election seats

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Lawmakers will vie for up to 18 by-election seats

As both the ruling Saenuri Party and opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy failed to emerge outrightly victorious in the local elections, attention is now being drawn to another political contest: the upcoming July 30 by-elections.

The main reason for the high interest in the by-elections is because the number of National Assembly seats up for grabs could be as high as 18.

Ten former lawmakers from both the ruling and opposition parties gave up their Assembly badges to run in the local elections.

Two additional Assembly seats are vacant as former lawmaker Lee Jae-yong of the Saenuri, who represented Pyeongtaek B district, and NPAD lawmaker Shin Jang-yong, chosen for the Suwon B district, lost their seats after violating election laws in the 2012 campaign.

The number could rise further as four sitting lawmakers are awaiting Supreme Court rulings. It is expected that the country’s highest court will hand down judgments before mid-July so that by-elections can be held if the lawmakers lose their seats.

Under the National Election Law, a lawmaker loses his or her seat if they are sentenced to pay a fine of 1 million won ($980) or higher or spends time in jail.

Two other lawmakers are also awaiting verdicts as their cases were sent back to a lower court by the Supreme Court. Should all six lawmakers receive penalties higher than a 1 million won fine, 18 Assembly seats will be contested by the Saenuri and NPAD.

Even if the courts decide to pass judgment after the election, at least 12 seats will be vied for.

Of the 12 races in the by-elections, nine are expected to be neck and neck. They are held in areas considered not to be as influenced by regionalism - in Seoul, Gyeonggi and Chungcheong - which raises the political stakes for the two parties.

Political observers estimate that the outcomes of the by-elections could serve as a barometer of public sentiment after the local elections, especially in Gyeonggi and Chungcheong, which are not as influenced by regionalism as the Jeolla and Gyeongsang areas.

“We have to closely watch three elections to be held in Suwon in July to have a sense of public sentiment in Gyeonggi,” said Cho Kwang-hwan, head of the political consulting firm Makers 10, in a phone interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily.

“Another race that deserves attention is Seosan in South Chungcheong as an election outcome there will show whether voters in Chungcheong region will continue to support the NPAD.”

For the opposition NPAD, the power of balance could be tilted its way if it manages to clinch a majority in the by-elections. The country’s second-largest party now commands the loyalty of 127 lawmakers.

On the other hand, the Saenuri now has 149 lawmakers, as seven gave up their seats to run in the local elections. The ruling party needs one more seat to resume its majority status at the 300-member National Assembly.

Reflecting the high stakes being placed on clinching at least 12 open seats, political heavyweights wanting to return to the political arena are gearing up to run in the election.

Yim Tae-hee, the president’s chief of staff for the Lee Myung-bak Blue House, has already registered for a Saenuri primary to run in Pyeongtaek B district, Gyeonggi.

Kim Hwang-sik, a former prime minister, Kim Moon-soo, an outgoing Gyeonggi governor, and Na Kyung-won are also said to be contemplating running in the upcoming election.

It remains to be seen whether outgoing Governor Kim will actually take part, as he is rumored to be one of the Blue House’s top choices for prime minister.

Chung Dong-young, a 2007 presidential candidate for the Democratic Party, a precursor of the NPAD; Chun Jung-bae, a former justice minister during the Roh Moo-hyun government; and Sohn Hak-kyu are among figures from the opposition said to be considering running in the election.

Kim Hyun-chul, the second son of former President Kim Young-sam, also declared that he would run in the by-election as an opposition candidate for Dongjak B district in Seoul, which was held by Chung Mong-joon of the Saenuri Party, who was bitterly defeated in the Seoul mayoral election.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]



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