Close battle as Campaign starts
By Chung Min-uck
The outlook for the April 11 National Assembly elections, seen as a barometer for the December presidential election, appeared unpredictable Thursday when official campaigning started.
Multiple experts predict that the ruling Saenuri Party and the main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP) will secure over 130 seats each out of 300 up for grabs with the latter taking a slight lead.
Among 10 political experts quizzed by the Hankook Ilbo, a sister paper of The Korea Times, half of them answered the DUP will be the majority party, while three backed the ruling party and two were uncommitted.
In the latest Korea Broadcasting System survey of 3,000 eligible voters nationwide over the weekend, support for the Saenuri Party was higher than that for the DUP, but within the margin of error. The two parties received 26.7 percent and 24.3 percent, respectively. Over 30 percent of voters said they were still undecided.
With voter responses and experts’ predictions showing mixed results, parties are focusing on key electoral districts in the capital region, Gyeongsang Province and Busan to win the elections.
The capital area altogether has 112 of the total 246 electoral districts including Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi Province.
Leaders of both the ruling and main opposition parties chose the capital area as their campaign destination on the first day of their campaign.
Rep. Park Geun-hye, chairwoman of the Saenuri Party, campaigned in 16 districts of Seoul and Gyeonggi Province to support her party’s candidates.
“Parties don’t have enough time to take care of the livelihood of the people. What will happen to the nation if parliament wastes all its time fighting over whether to scrap the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement and to drop the construction of a Naval base on Jeju Island?” Rep. Park said during her campaign speech in Dongdaemun, Seoul.
The ruling party has been attacking the oppositions for their flip-flopping stance on these two issues, which they initiated while in government.
“The Saenuri Party’s focus is on the livelihood of the people,” added Park.
Meanwhile, Han Myeong-sook, chairwoman of the DUP, held a joint press conference at Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul together with her campaign partner Rep. Lee Jung-hee, chairwoman of the minor opposition Unified Progressive Party.
The two liberal parties formed an alliance earlier this month to defeat the ruling party by preventing a possible vote split.
“Don’t be deceived by the Saenuri Party. If so, people’s lives will become even more miserable,” said Han. “Please provide support to the opposition alliance. We will open up the age of a true welfare state.”
The Saenuri Party expects to win around 40 seats in the capital area while the DUP is targeting around 60.
The nation’s southeastern area, considered the ruling party’s home ground, emerged as a hot spot after the liberals’ strongest presidential candidate Moon Jae-in announced his candidacy in the Sasang district of Busan, last December.
Since then, leaders of the Saenuri Party and the DUP have visited electoral districts there numerous times either to solidify support or win people over.
Observers say if the DUP is able to secure more than 10 seats on its rival’s home turf, it will help the party gain the majority in the 19th National Assembly.
However, the latest surveys show that the number of opposition supporters in the area is slowly beginning to fade as the elections near.
As of Thursday, only Moon and Rep. Cho Kyoung-tae, running for the Saha-B in Busan on the DUP ticket, have a dominant lead over their Saenuri Party rivals. In most of the districts ruling party candidates have an overwhelming lead.
Another challenge for the ruling party is independent candidates running on its home turf of Daegu. Nine candidates who were not selected in the primaries recently formed an alliance to run as independent candidates in electoral districts there. Following the move, the ruling party is worried of a vote-split in its long-held home turf. The city has 12 electoral districts.