Korea's election race starts off amid grief over Sewol tragedy

Korea's election race starts off amid grief over Sewol tragedy

SEOUL - Rival parties are set to begin full-fledged campaigning for the June 4 local elections as they complete candidate nomination and registration this week, amid the national mourning over victims of the sunken ferry Sewol.

The ruling Saenuri Party and the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy are expected to conclude their lineups for the elections earlier this week to register candidates with the election watchdog later on Thursday and Friday. If the party-nominated candidates turn in their names to the National Election Commission during the two-day registration period, they can start campaigning on May 22.

Parties so far have refrained from engaging in a political battle in the wake of the Sewol ferry disaster that left more than 300 missing or dead. But with the elections nearing, the two main parties have been speeding up their nomination processes since last week and drafting strategies to woo voters ahead of the elections. The local elections are for 17 provincial governor and mayoral seats as well as educational superintendents and local assembly members.

The ruling Saenuri Party picked Former Minister of Security and Public Administration Yoo Jeong-bok for the Incheon mayoral candidate on Friday and Rep. Nam Kyung-pil as the party's candidate for Gyeonggi Province governor on Saturday.

Saenuri concludes its selection of 17 candidates for metropolitan and provincial posts by nominating its candidate for Seoul mayor on Monday. The contest is at the centre of attention as it includes three political bigwigs ― former Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik, seven-term lawmaker and former presidential candidate Chung Mong-joon and three-term Rep. Lee Hye-hoon.

The winner will go up against incumbent Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon of the main opposition party, who is considered to have the upper hand. Along with Park, the NPAD currently has 13 confirmed candidates. The remaining three ― who will run for the governorships of Gyeonggi, North and South Jeolla provinces ― will be selected by May 13.

The issues of the government's poor initial response to the disaster as well as its insufficient safety measures and capacity to handle such major accidents are likely to dominate the entire election campaign period.

NPAD has decided to put the agenda of state crisis management reform at the centre of its election campaign to highlight mounting public demands to build a safer nation and intensify its attack against the ruling party and the government. The ruling Saenuri Party is also expected to prioritize safety issues and make election pledges to carry out massive reform measures on a safety management system.

The elections to be held nationwide are regarded as a major test of the Park Geun-hye government that entered its second year in February. If the ruling party wins major electoral seats, the victory is expected to empower the government, which has increasingly become the focus of public disappointment for its poor initial response as well as President Park's recent apologies to the victims' families. Disputes escalated over her first apology, carried out in the middle of a Cabinet meeting on April 29. Victims' families protested against the president, saying her apology was insincere and informal.

Amid growing controversies, President Park said she would deliver another apology. The president convened an emergency meeting with presidential secretaries on Sunday, seen as a preparation work for her third apology for the Sewol victims.


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