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[April 27 By-elections] Much at stake in wealthy satellite town

April 20, 2011 - 19:02 By 김소현
Tight match expected between former ruling party chief and ex-governor

This is the first of a three-part series on the April 27 by-election campaigns in three major electoral districts, Bundang-B, Gimhae-B and Gangwon Province. ― Ed.

Bundang is one of the most successfully developed satellite cities around Seoul with an electorate of commuters to the capital, their families and elderly people who moved mostly from the ruling party’s stronghold of Gangnam.

The main opposition Democratic Party decided at the last minute to field its leader Sohn Hak-kyu in the Bundang-B constituency to contest former ruling party chairman Kang Jae-sup in the by-election next week.

The Bundang-B by-election draws the entire nation’s attention as it is bound to signal the future path of Sohn as well as his party ahead of the parliamentary and presidential elections next year.

If Sohn wins his ticket back to the National Assembly, he will undoubtedly redeem his political clout over the DP which abated after he lost the party’s internal race for presidential candidacy in 2007.

Liberal voters or others who have grown tired of the ruling Grand National Party might like what Sohn’s website reads: “Bundang’s choice will change Korea.”

The man who started out as a human rights activist, studied and taught political science in college, served as lawmaker for three consecutive terms, as welfare minister and governor of Gyeonggi defected from the GNP to the DP just before the presidential race in 2007. Supporters of Sohn perceive him as a practical-minded and experienced leader with progressive roots while critics denounce him for his abrupt flight from the GNP where he grew as a politician.

In Bundang-B, Sohn is vying with Kang Jae-sup who led the GNP through the last presidential elections and had been elected legislator of Daegu four times.
Kang Jae-sup of the ruling GNP speaks with a child at a child care facility in Bundang on Wednesday a week ahead of the by-election. (Yonhap News)
Sohn Hak-kyu, the DP’s candidate for the parliamentary by-election, plays table tennis with a citizen in a Bundang welfare center on Wednesday. (Yonhap News)

The two have crossed paths several times but have different personalities.

In the mid-1960s, the Bundang rivals both went to Seoul National University, but Kang studied law and became a prosecutor while Sohn joined student protests against the 1965 Korea-Japan Treaty and the student-led democratization movement against South Korea’s then authoritarian rule.

In 1980, then prosecutor Kang was named presidential secretary for political and legal affairs at age 32. Human rights activist Sohn went to Oxford University in 1981 where he earned a doctorate in political science.

Kang entered the National Assembly in 1988 as a proportionate representative. He was elected legislator in 1992 and Sohn in 1993 in a by-election.

The showdown next week between 64-year-old Sohn and Kang, who is a year younger, is expected to be one of the tightest matches of the by-election day.

As for local connections, former Gyeonggi governor Sohn hails from Suwon, about half an hour’s drive south of Bundang, whereas Kang Jae-sup has lived in Bundang from when the suburban town was built 15 years ago.

Survey results so far have showed that Sohn is more popular among people in their 20s through 40s, while Kang is favored by those in their 50s and older.

Political observers believe the election results will depend on Wednesday’s voter turnout.

The DP has its hopes up as Bundang-B residents in their 20s through 40s account for a whopping 70 percent of the electorate.

But because a majority of the more liberal, young people has to leave for work or school early Wednesday morning, many of them might choose not to drop by the polls. Many of the conservative, elderly population of Bundang, on the contrary, have more time to vote.

Nationwide by-election voter turnouts recorded 40.8 percent in April 2009, 39 percent in October 2009 and 34.1 percent in July last year. Bundang has never had a by-election before, but its voter turnouts in other elections have been close to the nation’s average figure.

Observers predict that Sohn has a high chance of winning if more than 40 percent of Bundang-B’s eligible voters show up, and vice versa if not.

By Kim So-hyun (