A storm called Ahn Cheol-sooThe People’s Party, a spinoff of the major opposition Democratic Party, held its first primary in South Jeolla over the weekend. Despite lack of PR and bad weather in the region, including in Gwangju and Jeju Island, more than 62,000 voters, nearly double the party’s original estimate, took part. In Sunday’s race in North Jeolla, over 20,000 voters cast their ballots in a heated race to determine the party’s standard bearer in the May 9 presidential election.
The Democratic Party, too, will soon determine the winner of its contests in Jeolla and Gwangju — the home turf of Korea’s liberal forces — after tallying votes cast over the weekend and on Monday.
The two parties’ heated primaries in the liberals’ home base carry great significance ahead of the presidential election in May. So far, the public has been paying close attention to whether the overwhelming front-runner, Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party, will prove his dominance in the liberal region or if other contestants will be able to put the brakes on Moon’s stronghold. As the People’s Party primaries in Jeolla have shown remarkable turnouts and the party’s presidential hopeful, Ahn Cheol-soo, has dominated his rivals in the party with more than 60 percent of votes, it is yet to be seen whether rival Moon can really maintain his lead over other candidates.
All of that signals the next presidential race could head into uncertainties unseen before, including a neck-and-neck race. That would be a fortunate development as it can help ensure the voters’ right to choose and help enhance the legitimacy of the election.
The presidential election will be held seven months ahead of schedule because of President Park Geun-hye’s ouster. With less than two months left until the election day, political parties must finish their primaries as fairly and transparently as possible. Voters must also keep close watch on the candidates. Otherwise, a contender with a strong base in a party could end up winning the ticket.
The two opposition parties’ primaries are meaningful because they serve as a litmus test for a totally open primary, which was introduced for the first time in our country’s election history. Nevertheless, some questions remain. Despite the largest-ever number of voters participating in the race to pick the Democratic Party’s standard bearer, the party is under fire for its lax management of the race and mud fights among contestants. The People’s Party is no exception, even with the relatively smoother operation of its primaries. Both parties must do their best until they pick their candidates.
JoongAng Ilbo, March 27, Page 30