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[Newsmaker] Chung leads Saenuri big guns in Seoul polls

Rep. Chung Mong-joon of the Saenuri Party announces his bid for Seoul mayor at Mount Namsan, central Seoul, Sunday. (Yoon Byung-chan/The Korea Herald)
Rep. Chung Mong-joon of the Saenuri Party announces his bid for Seoul mayor at Mount Namsan, central Seoul, Sunday. (Yoon Byung-chan/The Korea Herald)

Rep. Chung Mong-joon, who announced his candidacy in the Saenuri Party’s primary for Seoul mayor, is a veteran politician with a career only a few can match.

Chung has had a very successful political career despite criticism that he lacks common touch, a claim that is backed up by comments such as that regarding Seoul’s bus fares.

The seven-term lawmaker has been quoted estimating bus fares to be about 70 won, when the actual figures stand at more than 1,000 won.

Regardless, Chung has served as the chief of the Grand National Party, the Saenuri Party’s predecessor, and has seven parliamentary terms under his belt.

Holding a stake of about 2 trillion won ($1.88 billion) in the shipbuilder Hyundai Heavy Industries, Chung is by far the wealthiest politician and one of the richest men in Korea.

Chung’s decision is thought to have been influenced by an apparent change in public sentiment.

Although earlier surveys had placed Chung’s ratings far behind that of incumbent Mayor Park Won-soon, recent polls have painted a different picture.

In a survey conducted by a local broadcaster, Chung was shown to have 41.3 percent in support ratings when pitted against Park and a candidate backed by independent Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo. In comparison, Park received a 35 percent support rate.

With the tides apparently turning against them, the main opposition Democratic Party, which holds an overwhelming majority in the Seoul Metropolitan Council, has already opened the offensive.

With 74 seats, the DP outnumbers the ruling party almost 3 to 1 on the Seoul council.

“(Chung) has miscalculated the timing within the Saenuri Party. It is useless how (Chung) claims to be pro-Park. The pro-Park Saenuri Party does not recognize him as ‘pro-Park,’” the DP’s Seoul city branch said in a statement on Friday.

“The chance of the pro-Park Saenuri Party choosing him as the Seoul mayor candidate is remarkably low.”

Regardless of the DP attacks, Chung is not alone in apparently judging the tides to be favorable to the conservatives.

Along with the seven-term lawmaker, Rep. Nam Kyung-pil is reportedly leaning toward answering the party’s call to run in the Gyeonggi Province governorship race.

Nam, a fifth-term lawmaker, had until recently been rumored to have set his sights on the post of Saenuri Party floor leader but implied a change of mind, saying that the issue needs consideration.

Nam is set to announce his decision within the week.

Along with Chung and Nam, supreme council member Lee Hye-hoon has thrown her hat into the ring, while former Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik is also reported to be nearing a decision.

If Kim accepts the Saenuri Party’s call, he will compete with Lee and Chung to become the ruling party’s candidate for Seoul mayor.

By Choi He-suk (