Send to

Why Jongno is known as Seoul’s center of politics

March 4, 2024 - 18:31 By Kim Arin
Democratic Party of Korea chair Rep. Lee Jae-myung (left) visits the office of Kwak Sang-eon, the son-in-law of the late President Roh Moo-hyun, (center) on Monday afternoon. (Yonhap)

The race to win the Assembly seat for Jongno, long known as the center of politics in Seoul, officially kicked off Monday as the Democratic Party of Korea candidate, Kwak Sang-eon, set to work after a contentious primary.

Kwak is the son-in-law of the late liberal President Roh Moo-hyun. The party decided to hand him the nomination for the symbolic Seoul district over other competitive figures such as Jeon Hyun-hee, who served as the head of the anti-corruption watchdog under President Moon Jae-in.

Rep. Lee Jae-myung, the Democratic Party chair, visited Kwak’s war room the same day to give a pep talk. “I don’t need to explain why I’m stopping by Jongno today. Jongno is called the political center of Korea, and highly significant,” the main opposition leader told supporters.

Lee said that he believes Kwak was “the right candidate” to continue Roh’s legacy. Roh died in 2009 amid an investigation into corruption allegations surrounding his family. “Jongno is where the dreams of President Roh Moo-hyun remain, and our Kwak will follow in his footsteps,” he said.

Kwak told supporters, “You win in Jongno, you win everywhere. Our victory will begin here.”

Jongno is a stronghold for no specific party, with a mix of conservative older voters and a university town with enclaves of younger voters with liberal attitudes. It is also home to Cheong Wa Dae, the previous presidential office before it was moved to Yongsan.

Being a “swing” district and the geographic center of Seoul, Jongno is often deemed a screen test for potential presidents. Three politicians chosen by Jongno voters -- Lee Myung-bak, Roh Moo-hyun, Yun Po-sun -- went on to become presidents.

Kwak is up against the incumbent, Rep. Choi Jae-hyeong, who represents the ruling People Power Party.

Choi was once one of the more favored candidates for the next presidency, having rivaled Yoon in the People Power Party presidential primary in the 2022 election. Before Choi, the Jongno seat was held by Lee Nak-yon, Moon’s former prime minister who was also once considered a Democratic Party potential presidential candidate.

Before the two parties finalized their candidates for Jongno, then-Minister of Justice Han Dong-hoon was rumored to run for Jongno before he was made the chief of the ruling party. Other big names floated include then-Minister of Foreign Affairs Park Jin and third-time Rep. Ha Tae-keung, both of whom are now running for office in other central Seoul districts where a tight match is anticipated.