Parties brace for election results

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Parties brace for election results

The ruling Saenuri and major opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy are bracing for the final outcomes of the July 30 by-elections tonight in which 15 new lawmakers will be voted in. The results could upend the political trajectory of many politicians, particularly NPAD Chairman Ahn Cheol-soo.

The by-elections today will be held at 1,003 polling stations nationwide, the most ever for a parliamentary poll, which further raises the political stakes of winning a majority of the 15 races. Because of the high number of seats being contested, today’s by-elections have been referred to as mini-general election.

Voting will start at 6 a.m. and last until 8 p.m. today.

Depending on the outcomes of today’s polls, Ahn could either maintain his grip on his party and nurture his presidential potential or face an embarrassing ouster from his position less than six months after he and Co-chairman Kim Han-gill founded NPAD.

“If the NPAD wins in six races while the Saenuri grabs nine constituencies, it will be seen as a crushing defeat for the opposition,” said Yoon Hee-woong, the director of the public opinion analysis team at Min Consulting. “Ahn and Kim may face increasing calls to take responsibility by stepping down from their positions, a demand the current leadership may find it difficult to reject.”

If Ahn finds himself in a situation in which he is forced to step down, Yoon said the NPAD chairman would find it “extremely challenging” to regain his potential to run in the 2017 presidential election.

Ahn became the NPAD’s co-chairman in March on the promise of bringing about new politics worthy of public trust. Though critics point out he has largely failed to demonstrate such commitment.

“NPAD’s top-down nominations in the lead-up to the elections seemed out of touch [with public sentiment] to many, disappointing Ahn’s supporters. Ahn failed to show voters the brand of new politics that he originally promised,” said Lee Chung-hee, a political science professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. “Ahn’s faults may be forgotten if the NPAD does well in the election. But if not, Ahn will be under tremendous pressure [to step down].”

The most closely contested race today is that for Dongjak B District in Seoul, the only one being waged in the capital, which sees two renowned politicians going head to head.

Former Judge Na Kyung-won, from the Saenuri Party, and Roh Hoe-chan, from the minority Justice Party, have both enjoyed celebrity-like status thanks to their impressive oratory skills as well as their many appearances on televised debate programs. Na, who distanced herself from politics after her defeat in the 2011 Seoul mayoral by-election, could come back to the Assembly with the potential to become the country’s second female president if she wins the district.

However, she faces an uphill battle, as Roh is seen as a liberal icon, and commands the loyalty of young voters. He gained momentum after Ki Dong-min, who was nominated by NPAD to run in Dongjak, bowed out of the race to avoid splitting votes. The victor in tonight’s election is expected to win by a small margin.

Moon Jae-in, the former opposition candidate in the 2012 presidential race, displayed his share of influence in and out of the party by drawing crowds in Dongjak and Suwon on the liberal campaign trail.

If the opposition’s Ahn-Kim leadership is terminated today, Moon, who represents a pro-Roh Moo-hyun group within NPAD, could step forward to take a leadership position.

Kwon Eun-hee, another well-known aspiring politician running on an opposition ticket, is expected to secure a win today, though her political journey could face a bumpy road if she garners less-than-expected support, or less than 60 percent of votes.

Kwon found herself at the center of the media spotlight last year after her bombshell revelation that she was pressured by her superiors to go easy on the National Intelligence Service in an investigation into its illegal online smear campaign against Moon Jae-in in the 2012 presidential election campaign. Her claim brought a flurry of criticisms against the NIS and police.

Kwon earned high praise from the Democratic Party, which preceded the NPAD, for revealing what the major opposition argued was an obstruction of justice. However, the NPAD’s decision to nominate Kwon to run in Gwangju, its traditional stronghold, has raised suspicions - largely among the conservative block - that Kwon’s actions were made with the intent to win a parliamentary seat.

In addition, allegations that Kwon did not report the full amount of her husband’s real estate assets to the election watchdog in order to pay less taxes also put her on the defensive during her two-week campaign, catching the NPAD off guard and allowing the Saenuri to go into full-attack mode against the former police official.

While the National Election Commission confirmed that Kwon did nothing illegal, the allegations were negative enough to influence the election outlook in other races, particularly those in Gyeonggi and Seoul, which are considered pivotal. “If Kwon receives less than 60 percent of votes or voter turnout in her district in Gwangju is lower than in other constituencies, it will deal another blow to NPAD’s leadership,” said Yoon, from Min Consulting.

Likewise, Lee Jung-hyun, the Saenuri’s candidate in the race for Suncheon and Gokseong in South Jeolla has also drawn tremendous attention in recent days amid the rising expectation that he may pull off a victory. A longtime aide to President Park Geun-hye, he faces off with Suh Gab-won, a loyalist to former President Roh Moo-hyun.

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




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