Election 2020 campaign takes off

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Election 2020 campaign takes off

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Former Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon, left, co-chair of the ruling Democratic Party’s election committee, and Hwang Kyo-ahn, chairman of the main opposition United Future Party (UFP), campaign in Jongno District in central Seoul on Sunday. [NEWS1]

Candidates from the ruling and opposition parties running in the April 15 general election started campaigning over the weekend in a nation preoccupied with the coronavirus outbreak.

With just 10 days left until the general election for the 21st National Assembly, much attention was on contenders in areas of Seoul, Gyeonggi and Incheon, which comprise about half the seats up for grabs.

Former Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon, co-chair of the ruling Democratic Party’s (DP) election committee and chief of the party’s coronavirus response committee, campaigned in Jongno District in central Seoul, where he is running against Hwang Kyo-ahn, chairman of the main opposition United Future Party (UFP).

Lee met with citizens at Waryong Park in Myeongnyun-dong, Samcheong Park at the foot of Mount Bukhan and Muak-dong in Jongno District on Sunday and focused on the importance of overcoming the coronavirus crisis.

Hwang, also a former prime minister, played badminton with locals in Naksan Park. He focused his message on the importance of saving the economy and was critical of the ruling party for trying to “save Cho Kuk,” the former justice minister who faced allegations of corruption surrounding his family.

Lee and Hwang, considered leading contenders for the 2022 presidential race, are expected to hold a debate Monday, the first debate between two potential presidential contenders from the rival parties.

Topics expected to be covered include the response to the coronavirus outbreak and reviving the economy, creating jobs and other issues like the low birthrate and aging population.

During a rally on Saturday at Myeongnyun-dong, Lee told supporters, “I won’t hate Chairman Hwang just because our ideas are different. Please don’t hate Chairman Hwang, and I also hope [Hwang] doesn’t hate me either. We need to cooperate to save the country.”

In contrast, Hwang on his Facebook posted Saturday harsh words against the Moon Jae-in government, writing, “Everything is the fault of an incompetent government.”

He was especially critical of the state of the country’s economy, saying “it was already in a difficult position before Covid-19.”

The 13-day official campaign period kicked off Thursday and lasts until the eve of the general elections.

On April 15, voters will elect 300 lawmakers - 253 directly elected seats and 47 proportional representatives - for the 21st National Assembly.

The ruling party and major opposition parties have set up satellite parties due to a new election law, and their purpose is to win more proportional representative seats.

A record 35 political parties are vying for those seats.

Outside of the capital area, the DP, Party for People’s Livelihoods and independent candidates launched campaigns in North Jeolla, where heated competition is expected. The UFP particularly focused efforts on Daejeon, North Chungcheong and Sejong City.

Im Jong-seok, former chief of staff to President Moon Jae-in, campaigned for DP candidates in North Jeolla and the Seoul metropolitan area, including Lee Soo-jin, a former district court judge and political newcomer running in the Dongjak-B District in western Seoul, usually a conservative stronghold. She is up against Rep. Na Kyung-won, a four-term lawmaker of the UFP, who is seeking reelection. She has represented Dongjak-B District since 2014.

Veteran politician Kim Chong-in, election chief of the UFP, visited Daejeon and Cheongju in North Chungcheong Sunday after a stop in Busan Saturday to drum up support for his party in regions outside of the capital.

Other figures like Sohn Hak-kyu, the election committee chief of the Party for People’s Livelihoods, visited Daegu, Ulsan and Gyeongju this weekend after stopping in Gwangju Thursday.

Ahn Cheol-soo of the minor opposition People’s Party ran through the Jeolla region Sunday, his fifth day of a 400-kilometer (250-mile) solo cross-country marathon to drum up support for his party’s 26 proportional representative candidates.

The trained medical doctor last month volunteered in a hospital in Daegu, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in Korea.

Sim Sang-jeung, election head of the progressive Justice Party, campaigned in Jeonju and Iksan in North Jeolla then focused efforts on her electoral district of Goyang in Gyeonggi Saturday.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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