|Kim Seon-dong, right, former secretary general of the main opposition People Power Party, speaks during a party meeting at the National Assembly in Seoul, in this Aug. 21 photo. Kim stepped down from the party post last week to run in the party primary for next April's Seoul mayoral election. On the left is PPP's emergency committee chief Kim Chong-in. Korea Times file|
Main opposition party urged to hurry in finding new candidates
By Jung Da-min
Next April's by-elections have become a pressing matter in politics with the mayoral posts of the country's two biggest cities, Seoul and Busan, remaining vacant following the suicide of Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon in July and the resignation of Busan Mayor Oh Keo-don in April.
With less than six months left ahead of the by-elections, both the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) and the main opposition People Power Party (PPP) are having difficulties in finding the right candidates for the posts for different reasons.
As both former mayors belonged to the DPK and both faced sexual harassment allegations, the ruling party has been faced with a dilemma over whether or not to nominate candidates ― the party's own regulations state that it will not field a candidate for a by-election that came about due to a party member resigning over wrongdoings.
Opinion is divided within the DPK over whether the party should nominate candidates for the Seoul and Busan mayoral posts, while the party leadership is maintaining an ambiguous position, simply saying it will make a decision after collecting party and public opinions. But political watchers widely expect the DPK will participate in the by-elections, although public criticism is forecast, because of the symbolic importance of the Seoul and Busan mayor positions.
It is said that the DPK may field some female heavyweights, such as Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae or SMEs and Startups Minister Park Young-sun, as a way to deal with the situation in which the two former male mayors faced sexual harassment allegations.
This situation could be favorable to the main opposition party, but the PPP is also having difficulty finding suitable candidates as it lacks powerful or fresh figures who may be able to gain enough public support to win in the by-elections.
Following the launch of a preparatory committee for the party's primary for the mayoral by-elections, Oct. 12, some PPP members, including former two-term lawmaker Oh Shin-hwan, Yeouido Institute head Ji Sang-wook and former secretary general of the party Kim Seon-dong, expressed their willingness to run in the primary.
But political watchers said it would be better for the PPP to bring in fresh figures who could win more support from the public, as those currently mentioned as possible candidates lack sufficient popularity or reputation.
"Those who expressed willingness to run in the party's primary were those who failed to win in the April general election. As it has not been that long since they were defeated in the general election, the possibility seems to be low that they could be powerful candidates for the mayoral elections," Kim Hyung-joon, a professor of political science and diplomacy at Myongji University, told The Korea Times. "The PPP needs to recruit outsiders at least before December."
Cha Jae-won, a professor of special affairs at the Catholic University of Pusan, said that the PPP should hurry in finding powerful figures with popularity with less than six months left ahead of the elections.
"If the main opposition party is looking for a fresh figure who would not be labeled by the public as a tainted politician, first-term lawmakers such as Rep. Yun Hee-suk would be suitable," Cha said. Yun made headlines in late July with her speech at the National Assembly about the fallacies of the government's real estate policy based on her experience as a leaseholder.
"Or a figure who knows a lot about the Fourth Industrial Revolution with working experience in the field of information technology, such as Socar CEO Lee Jae-woong, could be the right candidate for the main opposition party," Cha said.