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[Newsmaker] Former Blue House officials race to enter general elections

Individuals who served in President Moon Jae-in’s Cheong Wa Dae are entering the general elections in droves, fanning both criticism and expectations in the political arena.

According to the ruling Democratic Party, about 60 individuals who have held Cheong Wa Dae posts at various levels have informed the party of their intentions to run in the April 15 general elections.

Although not all of them will get party nominations, the number of Cheong Wa Dae-linked hopefuls amounts to a fifth of all National Assembly seats and nearly a quarter of all available constituencies.

Since the controversial revision of the election law, the number of constituency seats in the 300-member National Assembly is set at 253. 

Youn Kun-young (Yonhap)
Youn Kun-young (Yonhap)

Some of the more high-profile names include Youn Kun-young, former political affairs adviser Han Byung-do and economy adviser Joo Hyung-chul.

Youn, who headed the presidential state affairs planning office until Monday, is one of Moon’s closest aides. Youn and Moon are close friends and political allies whose ties go back to the 2003-2008 term of the late President Roh Moo-hyun, when they both served in the presidential office.

After the presidential office announced the reshuffle in which Youn was replaced, Youn wrote on his social media account that he would “begin humbly but passionately,” further fanning speculation that he might be planning to run. 

Joo Hyung-chul (Yonhap)
Joo Hyung-chul (Yonhap)
Han Byung-do (Yonhap)
Han Byung-do (Yonhap)

Joo, on the other hand, was not among those replaced in Monday’s reshuffle, but there is speculation that he is likely to run for a parliamentary seat.

Among others with connections to the presidential office, those who served in public relations posts stand out due to their number, with all of those who held high-level posts in public relations entering the race.

According to a former Cheong Wa Dae official speaking on condition of anonymity, public relations posts are considered by some to be ideal steppingstones to political careers due to the high media exposure.

Since Moon took office in May 2017, three spokespeople and two senior public relations secretaries have served in the presidential office. Of these, both former spokespeople and one senior public relations secretary are running for parliamentary seats. In addition, current spokesperson Ko Min-jung is reported to be weighing her options.

Of the former spokespeople, Park Soo-hyun was the first to declare his bid, having registered with the ruling party in mid-December. 

Park, who has a parliamentary term under his belt, is running for a South Chungcheong Province constituency, reviving the political ambitions he set aside in 2018. Park left Cheong Wa Dae in early 2018 to run in the local elections, but tapped out after the scandal surrounding former South Chungcheong Gov. Ahn Hee-jung. Kim -- who left Cheong Wa Dae last year amid allegations of real estate speculation -- is running for a seat in Gunsan, South Jeolla Province.

Along with the spokespeople, former senior public relations secretary Yoon Young-chan is eyeing a constituency in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province. In addition, Kwun Hyuk-ki, former director of the presidential office’s press center, has his sights on Seoul’s Yongsan constituency.  

The sheer number of former Cheong Wa Dae officials has prompted criticism from the opposition.

“New figures, policies and pledges will disappear from the elections, and ‘experience in Cheong Wa Dae’ and ‘Moon Jae-in’s man’ will overwhelm the elections,” Liberty Korea Party spokesperson Rep. Jun Hee-kyung said. 

By Choi He-suk (