We have been getting a steady stream of news about Seoul’s mayoral campaign, but Seoul is not the only jurisdiction that is having a by-election in less than two weeks. There are 11 other by-elections on Oct. 26, and perhaps just as important as Seoul mayoral election is the election for the head of Busan Dong-Gu, as the previous head lost his seat when he was convicted of an elections law violation.
(“Gu” is a district within a city, so an American equivalent to this election is an election for a borough president in New York.)
If conventional wisdom holds true, this election should not be in doubt as Busan has been traditionally a stronghold for GNP. (The Progressive candidate said people asked him if he was a commie.) But in the recent years, Busan has proven receptive to Progressives. Roh Moo-Hyun won his presidency by maximizing his connection with Busan. Also, the current administration did little to endear itself to Busan. The government cancelled the plan to build a new airport in the Busan area, and did not do enough to prevent the collapse of Busan Savings Bank, which took a lot of local residents’ deposits to its grave. Should the Progressives claim Busan, it will provide a huge momentum for the Progressives toward the upcoming National Assembly election and the presidential election.
Another interesting point to watch is that this election may be a proxy battle for Park Geun-Hye and Moon Jae-In. Moon has been the Progressives’ darling so far (except for the period during which they fell in Ahn Cheol-Soo swoon,) but he has not yet proven his mettle in a real battle yet. To be a credible candidate for the Progressives, Moon must make a good showing in Busan, which is his hometown. Moon certainly understands the stakes — he has directly inserted himself in this campaign by serving as the head of the committee that is supporting the Progressive candidate. Meanwhile, Park began her barnstorming today in Seoul to assist Na Gyeong-Won’s mayoral candidacy, but is rumored to hit Busan tomorrow. The unpopularity of GNP is putting her in a heck of a bind — if she concentrated her efforts in Seoul and Na loses (which appears likely at this point,) her momentum as a presidential candidate takes a serious hit. But if Moon Jae-In does create a victory in Busan, the hit on Park’s momentum might be even greater. Can she afford to jettison Na in order to tend to her own backyard, which will surely piss off her own party?
A quick overview on the candidates: GNP’s candidate is Jeong Yeong-Seok, a former high-ranking bureaucrat in Busan. His resume includes two vice-Gu chief and head of Busan’s Department of Environment. The unified Progressive candidate is Lee Hae-Seong, a former journalist for MBC and the chief press secretary during the Roh Moo-Hyun administration. There are also two independent candidates, both of which are council members for Busan Dong-Gu.