By Jun Ji-hye
The primary race of the ruling Saenuri Party for the Seoul mayoral election is showing signs of becoming a battle between supporters of President Park Geun-hye and those of her predecessor Lee Myung-bak.
Former Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik and seven-term lawmaker Chung Mong-joon are believed to be running in the primary, along with the governing party's Supreme Council member Lee Hye-hoon.
Chung and Kim have yet to officially announce their bids, but have shown every indication they plan to run.
It appears in the National Assembly that supporters of President Park are rooting for Kim, while supporters of former President Lee and those who do not follow Park are behind Chung.
Rep. Lee Jae-oh, seen as the leader of the Lee Myung-bak faction, admitted to the possibility of a factional conflict.
"If both Chung and Kim throw their hats into the ring, a factional dispute will likely emerge," Lee told reporters. He added, however, "If Chung decides to stand for the mayoral race, I intend to work as a head of his election campaign."
Speculation that the Park faction is supporting the former prime minister emerged as Kim, who hesitated to run for the local elections, appears to have had a change of heart after meeting leaders of the governing camp, including Chairman Hwang Woo-yea.
"I want to give hope to citizens by adopting totally new administrative policies," Kim said
Observers are speculating that Kim's bid for the mayoral race seems to be having the backing of President Park.
They argue that without support from the president, Kim who has no experience of running in any election wouldn't be able to compete against Chung, who has contested in several elections including the presidential poll.
However, party leaders are attempting to play down rumors of strife within the governing camp.
Rep. Yoon Sang-hyun, vice floor leader of the governing camp, said, "There is no faction in the Saenuri Party."
Rep. Hong Moon-jong, its secretary general, a noted pro-Park figure, echoed the same sentiments by saying: "The argument that the Park supporters are supporting Kim is totally illogical."
Some members expressed their concerns about Chung and Kim, saying losing in the primary race might be a political burden for each one of them down the road.
"Both will be considerably damaged from a defeat in the primary. So, there is a chance that one of the two could make a concession at the end," said an official from the ruling party.
However, the party still wants both of them to compete in the race, expecting that the primary featuring such influential figures will attract public interest, and that could help thwart the reelection bid of the current Mayor Park Woon-soon of the main opposition Democratic Party.
"Competition between various figures has positive effects in drawing public attention," said spokesman Park Dae-chul.