Ferry disaster clouds key vote for Seoul mayor

Ferry disaster clouds key vote for Seoul mayor
Seoul mayoral candidate Park Won-Soon.

SEOUL- South Korea's ferry disaster has cast a heavy shadow over upcoming local elections, especially the key race for Seoul mayor - a high-profile post seen as a possible springboard for the presidency.

With the nation still reeling from the April 16 tragedy that claimed around 300 lives, mostly schoolchildren, next week's polls for city councils, mayors and provincial governors offer a chance to measure the extent of the political fallout.

Surrounded by allegations of negligence, greed and incompetence, the sinking of the 6,825-tonne Sewol ferry triggered intense criticism of the government and President Park Geun-Hye whose ruling conservative Saenuri Party fears a backlash in the June 4 vote.

Particular attention will be paid to the mayoral race in Seoul where the two main candidates for one of the most powerful jobs in the country present a timely study in contrasts.

The anti-establishment mood that has swelled in the wake of the Sewol disaster would seem to favour the incumbent, Park Won-Soon, who is standing for a second term.

A former civil rights activist, Park was a something of a political non-entity when he made history by winning the 2011 mayoral election as an independent - although he has since joined the main opposition grouping.

Park was a generally popular mayor, engaging with voters on social networks and promoting community-driven governance while eschewing the marquee construction projects of some of his predecessors.

His main challenger, tycoon-turned-politician Chung Mong-Joon of the Saenuri Party, is a seven-term legislator and scion of the family that founded and controls the giant Hyundai conglomerate.

The ferry tragedy has loomed large over the election campaign, with both candidates hammering home the need to improve public safety.

"The disaster was a huge wake-up call and revealed the darker shadows of our society's rapid development and growth-oriented impatience," Park told AFP in an interview, during which he repeatedly underlined his civil activist past and image as a political outsider.

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