Activist Park elected Seoul mayor
By Lee Tae-hoon
Park Won-soon, a lawyer-turned-civic activist, clinched the Seoul mayor post in by-elections Wednesday to pick replacements for local government and council representatives in 42 electoral districts across the country.
The 55-year-old unified candidate from the opposition camp defeated Na Kyung-won, a judge-turned-politician of the governing Grand National Party (GNP) by taking the majority of the votes.
However, the GNP which controls the majority of 168 seats in the National Assembly, managed to secure eight of the 11 top posts at smaller local governments up for grab.
These included the top local government seats in Chungju, North Chungcheong Province, the Yangcheong district of Seoul and the Dong district in Busan.
Na, who had to give up her National Assembly seat last month to run the mayoral race, garnered 46.2 percent of the votes, compared to 53.4 percent for Park, despite former GNP Chairwoman Park Geun-hye’s active support throughout the campaign.
Observers say the election outcome will shake up the political landscape, paving the way for civic groups to have a bigger say in politics and the possible creation of a new party.
They note that the liberal lawyer’s victory will serve as a cornerstone for the entry into politics of doctor-turned-software mogul Ahn Cheol-soo, who openly backed Park. His victory will likely deal a serious blow to the ruling party, which reeled from a crushing defeat in by-elections on April 27; as well as to the political career of the former two-term lawmaker Na.
In the April election, the GNP managed to secure only one of three National Assembly seats up for grabs and even lost in the race for a governorship in its political home turf of Gangwon Province.
Political pundits say the defeat in the Seoul mayoral race will likely make the conservative party suffer a leadership crisis and put President Lee Myung-bak in danger of slipping into lame-duck status.
They say GNP presidential hopeful Park may encounter an uphill battle to win her party’s ticket for the 2012 presidential election as the Seoul race was viewed by many as a proxy war between her and Ahn over the next presidency.
Some say conservatives, who have seen Park’s failure to rally support for Na, may seek an alternative for their party flag-bearer, giving rise to other presidential contenders, including former GNP Chairman Chung Mong-joon and Gyeonggi Province Governor Kim Moon-soo.
Others, however, say the former GNP chairwoman may further solidify her position in the party as she played a pivotal role in boosting Na’s support base during the race and significantly contributed to the party’s victories in other regions.
Na said she would humbly accept the result of the election.
“I’ll take it as an opportunity to look back and reflect upon myself once again,” she said. “I hope the newly-elected mayor will become a great mayor for the long-term future of Seoul.”
Wednesday’s voter turnout was the highest among all by-elections in the past decade due largely to the heated contest for the vacant seat.
According to the National Election Commission (NEC), 45.9 percent of 10.02 million eligible voters nationwide cast their ballots, up a respective 4.6 percent and 9.1 percent compared to the last two by-elections.
The voter participation in Seoul, which accounts for 83.5 percent or 8.37 million of the voters, was 48.6 percent.
Unlike nationwide elections, such as the presidential poll, by-elections are not recognized as a public holiday and their average turnout has been below 30 percent.
The final tallies were the highest in Ulleung, South Gyeongsang Province, with 73.2 percent, and Sunchang, North Jeolla Province, with 71.4 percent.
The turnout in Siheung, Gyeonggi Province, remained the lowest among the 42 constituencies with 11.5 percent,
Seocho, a posh district in southern Seoul, had the highest turnout rate in Seoul with 53.1 percent, followed by Yangcheon and Nowon at 50.4 and 50.3 percent, respectively.