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Moon wins first primary in landslide

Takes first major step toward becoming liberal flagbearer

GWANGJU -- Moon Jae-in of the nation’s biggest Democratic Party of Korea scored a landslide victory in the party’s first primary race Monday, taking the first major step to becoming the official liberal standard-bearer in the May 9 presidential election.

The former party chief won 60.2 percent of the primary vote in the first round of the party’s four planned primaries, held in the traditional liberal stronghold of Gwangju. 

Moon Jae-in of the liberal Democratic Party of Korea (Yonhap)
Moon Jae-in of the liberal Democratic Party of Korea (Yonhap)

South Chungcheong Gov. An Hee-jung came in at 20 percent, followed by Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung at 19.4 percent and Goyang Mayor Choi Sung at a distant 0.4 percent.

“It is much better than I expected. I really appreciate the great support from citizens from Gwangju and Jeolla Province,” Moon told reporters after the results were announced, at 7:02 p.m.

Moon also expressed confidence in the remaining three rounds of the nomination race later this week.

“I think voters agreed that I was the most prepared nominee.”

An, who touted himself as a younger and more moderate alternative to Moon, with a wider appeal to non-liberal voters, was clearly disappointed, but vowed to turn the tables by winning the upcoming races in Chungcheong and Yeongnam regions in the southeastern part of the peninsula.

“It is only my first try. Do not be let down,” he said.

Moon’s victory in Gwangju was widely expected, with him topping polls among presidential hopefuls across the aisle for the past 12 consecutive weeks.

According to Realmeter on Monday, Moon garnered 34.4 percent of support while his in-party rival Gov. An had 17.1 percent. Ahn Cheol-soo of the centrist People’s Party stands third, posting at 12.6 percent while Mayor Lee posted at 10.2 percent. A conservative presidential aspirant, Rep. Hong Joon-pyo of the Liberty Korea Party, was fifth on the list with 9.5 percent.

The result was the combination of Monday’s vote from about 2,100 party members, and previous ballots cast by tens of thousands of citizens and telephone polls in the region.

The gym of the Kwangju Women’s University in Gwangju, South Jeolla Province, where the poll results were announced, were filled with some 7,000 supporters of the four contenders who cheered loudly and chanted their names.

Before the party members’ voting began at 3 p.m., the four contenders appealed to the voters, stressing their connections to the Honam region.

Moon said he was the most prepared of all the candidates.

“My blueprint for the next government is completed. I promise you a clear regime change and will become a successful president,” he said in his primary speech. 

Moon Jae-in wins first primary in landslide. (Yonhap)
Moon Jae-in wins first primary in landslide. (Yonhap)

The win in Gwangju, or the surrounding Honam region, was especially sought after by all of the party’s four contenders as it is a bastion of the left-wing voters.

Symbolic as the birthplace of the nation’s modern democracy, Gwangju stood at the forefront of pro-democracy demonstrations in 1980s against authoritarian regimes.

Pundits view Monday’s result as likely to set the tone for the liberal party’s nomination race, which is to name its official flagbearer on April 3, or April 8, if runoff voting is required in the event that there is no majority winner.

“Some 25 percent of the party members are from the Honam region, so it is obvious that a victory there can sway the party’s primary,” said Kim Min-jeon, a political science professor at Kyung Hee University. “The region is also the first to hold the primary voting, which is very likely to affect the rest.”

While the city is widely seen as supporting liberal parties, the public sentiment in Gwangju city was seen to be widely divided into two, those supporting the centrist People’s Party and those supporting the Democratic Party.

“I was pretty sure Moon will win in today’s voting,” a university student Han Gyu-ri, 21 told The Korea Herald. “He is currently the mega-trend figure and people here would want to pick someone who is likely to become the president.”

Some showed skepticism at Moon taking the next administration.

“Moon is not much different from the impeached President Park Geun-hye. But as a liberal voter, I thought I should pick Moon so that he can compete with Ahn from the People’s Party,” said 57-year-old Cho Ok-hwan, who added he has already voted for Moon.

Over the weekend, Ahn Cheol-soo, a rival to Moon in the 2012 presidential race, also bagged his first primary win in the People’s Party’s presidential nomination race.

Jeong Do-hwan, a realty dealer, was surprised at the big margin between the contenders.

“There are some people here in Gwangju who would like for Ahn to be the president over Moon. That is a big win,” the 29-year-old said.

Professor Kim stressed that this year’s presidential race is highly likely to be heated between the left-wing parties, unlike past elections during which the oppositions merged to win over their opponent.

The second regional primary for the Democratic Party is planned in Daejeon on Wednesday for Chungcheong Province, followed by a vote in the Yeongnam region that includes the southeastern city of Busan on Friday.

By Jo He-rim (herim@heraldcorp.com)
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