By:-election campaigning starts

Candidates standing in the April 24 by-elections are now fully engaged in 13 days of political tussle over three seats in the National Assembly, as official campaigning began Thursday. From now on, they are able to make stump speeches or place advertisements.

Although it lacks the draw of last year’s presidential poll, there is increasing public interest on the by-elections because big name candidates such as Ahn Cheol-soo and Kim Moo-sung are standing and it is the first electoral process since President Park Geun-hye was inaugurated.

The three parliamentary seats are: Nowon in Seoul, Yeongdo in Busan and Buyeo-Cheongyang in South Chungcheong Province. “This election will show how the public evaluates the Park government for the last couple of months,” said Rep. Chung Woo-taik Thursday at the ruling Saenuri Party’s supreme council meeting.

Neck-and-neck race

The ruling party signaled its intention to devote all its energy to campaigning in Nowon district where its candidate, Huh Joon-young, a former CEO of the Korea Railroad (Korail), is running against former independent presidential candidate Ahn. The strategy was adopted because the party expects comparatively easy victories in the Yeongdo and Buyeo-Cheongyang districts.

“Huh has worked hard for the Nowon region. I expect he will receive strong support from the ruling party to be elected,” Chung said. Chung described Ahn as a migratory bird, stating that Huh has served as head of the party’s Nowon regional committee for a year, while Ahn recently moved to the district.

The party’s spokesman, Lee Sang-il, also made barbed comments aimed at Ahn, saying “Voters want someone who is able to improve their quality of life, not a person who made his name by repeatedly appearing and disappearing in big elections such as the presidential poll.”

However, in recent surveys, the software mogul-turned-politician has remained ahead of Huh and other liberal candidates.

Regarding this, Huh, who began his first day of official campaigning with a street cleaning photo opportunity, said, “Every survey has errors due to the different methods within them. I also take the lead in some surveys.”

Huh, who is also a former chief of the National Police Agency, stressed that he is ready to work for the region. Ahn launched his official campaign in front of the Lotte Department Store in Sanggye-dong. Wearing a blue campaign jacket with his electoral team and saying “I will do my best”, he shook hands or took pictures with voters in the street.

“About a month ago when I first came here, people seemed diffident and uncertain toward me. But, as a result of meeting many people here, their responses have changed. They welcome me now,” Ahn said.

In Busan, Kim Moo-sung of the ruling party, the former chief of President Park’s presidential election campaign office, has a big lead over his liberal counterpart, Kim Bi-oh, head of the Busan regional committee of the main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP).

To counter this, the DUP, which is not fielding a candidate in Nowon as a concession to Ahn, is concentrating on supporting Kim Bi-oh. Chairman Moon Hee-sang visited Busan Thursday and participated in Kim’s campaign launch. Former DUP presidential candidate Moon Jae-in also expressed his desire to help the DUP candidate.

In Buyeo-Cheongyang district, the Saenuri Party’s Lee Wan-koo, former governor of South Chungcheong Province, is leading the race against the DUP’s Hwang In-suk.