Liberal vet’s bid heats district race

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Liberal vet’s bid heats district race

Seoul’s Gwanak B district has grabbed attention in the run-up to the April 29 by-elections, with the political stakes for its contenders much higher than initially anticipated.

Interest in Gwanak B district - a traditional stronghold for the liberal bloc for the past 27 years - intensified after veteran politician Chung Dong-young, a former presidential candidate for the major opposition, declared his candidacy.

The move added another variable to the election dynamic prior to the polls at the end of this month.

Before Chung announced his plans to run, observers anticipated that the NPAD’s victory in Gwanak district was practically assured.

The district’s parliamentary seat was left vacant after the Constitutional Court ruled last year to dissolve the leftist Unified Progressive Party (UPP) on charges that it was pro-Pyongyang.

The court’s decision stripped UPP Rep. Lee Sang-kyu, who formerly represented Gwanak-B district, of his seat in the National Assembly.

With Chung now in the mix, the NPAD is facing the possibility that the ruling Saenuri Party’s little-known candidate, Oh Shin-hwan, could claim a victory - a situation that would have been considered unfathomable just a month ago. The ruling party, which placed little hope in scoring a victory in the opposition’s traditional stronghold, has since fully engaged in a bid to take the district.

A public poll conducted Tuesday and Wednesday by the JoongAng Ilbo, meanwhile, proved to be in line with the ruling party’s expectations.

In the survey, which questioned 600 adults, 34.3 percent placed their support behind Oh, followed by the NPAD’s Jung Tae-ho with 15.9 percent, and Chung Dong Young with 13.3 percent.

A Saenuri defeat in this case would likely be a huge blow for ruling party Chairman Kim Moo-sung, particularly in a constituency in which a victory is long overdue.

A loss for the Saenuri there could also hamper the political prospects of former Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon, who has been assisting Oh Shin-hwan’s campaign in an attempt to revive his political capital in helping to gain another National Assembly seat for the party.

At the same time, if Oh Shin-hwan manages a win, it would raise substantial questions over whether NPAD Chairman Moon Jae-in did enough for the opposition’s campaign, though Moon could still attribute the defeat to Chung having split the liberal votes.

But if Jung, a former spokesman under the Roh Moo-hyun Blue House, comes in third in terms of voter support in the district, Moon is likely to be blamed for failing to embrace the faction within the NPAD loyal to late President Kim Dae-jung.

But the stakes are also high for Chung. If he comes in second, political watchers say, he still has a shot in the general election in April 2016.

Chung left the NPAD in December, claiming it had merely been following the Saenuri in its policy platforms.

If he comes in third, however, he would face intense blame for having given away the opposition’s long-standing support base to the ruling party.

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

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