Absentee voting kicks off ahead of by-elections

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Absentee voting kicks off ahead of by-elections

The two-day absentee voting period for next week’s by-elections started Friday, as the ruling and opposition parties concentrated their firepower on one particular race in Seoul.

Chairman Kim Moo-sung of the conservative ruling Saenuri Party and Chairman Moon Jae-in of the liberal main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) headed to the capital’s Gwanak B District on Friday to support their candidates ahead of Wednesday’s by-elections.

The constituency is considered a liberal stronghold, with the majority of its residents being students and members of the working-class population. Many area residents also hail from North and South Jeolla, the opposition party’s traditional home base.

The prospect, however, is not so rosy for the NPAD, as it has failed to dissuade other liberal candidates from running. Currently, six candidates including the Saenuri’s Oh Shin-hwan and the NPAD’s Jeong Tae-ho are competing for the district. Chung Dong-young, the opposition’s 2007 presidential candidate who was defeated by Lee Myung-bak, is also running in Gwanak B as an independent candidate. He left the NPAD earlier this year to establish his own political group.

In addition to Gwanak B, three more vacancies in the National Assembly are set to be filled in next week’s polls. Among them are three seats previously occupied by the now-disbanded Unified Progressive Party and one by the ruling Saenuri Party.

Jungwon in Seongnam, Gyeonggi, Seo B in Gwangju, and Ganghwa B in Incheon’s Seo District will also hold by-elections.

According to the National Election Commission, absentee voting took place from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday and will be held today at 72 polling stations across those districts.

But while the ruling party struggles with a snowballing scandal involving late construction tycoon Sung Wan-jong - who claimed before his death to have given political funding for years to President Park Geun-hye’s inner circle - the opposition party has expressed concern that the by-elections won’t be as easy as it initially anticipated.

Lawmakers worry liberal votes could be split between the NPAD’s candidates and other liberal rivals running on independent tickets, which would in essence benefit the Saenuri.

On Wednesday, a week before the April 29 by-elections, NPAD Secretary-General Yang Seung-jo held a press conference, during which he claimed that the public was enraged by the Sung scandal and that the party could see signs of great change.

“Although I cannot say this with 100 percent certainty, there is the possibility that we could win all four races,” he said.

NPAD sources told the JoongAng Ilbo, however, that senior party members were worried about the situation.

Across each distract, NPAD candidates are competing against conservative Saenuri candidates as well as other liberal contenders. In Gwangju, the NPAD faces a particularly tough rival.

Chun Jung-bae, a veteran lawmaker and former justice minister, left the NPAD earlier this year to run independently in Gwangju, refusing to compete in the internal primary. Liberal votes in the Gwangju Seo B district are expected to be split in the constituency, a traditional opposition stronghold.

According to a poll conducted by MBN and Real Meter on Wednesday, the Saenuri Party was leading in Seoul’s Gwanak B and Jungwon in Seongnam. In Incheon, the Saenuri Party and the NPAD were battling it out within a margin of error, while in Gwangju, Chun was leading in the race against the NPAD within the margin of error.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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