Go to contents

Sohn Returns to Pro-gov`t Party`s Primary Race

Posted September. 22, 2007 08:45,   


Will Sohn Hak-gyu sail with a fair wind in the United New Democratic Party`s primary?

Ending two days of reclusion, Sohn Hak-gyu, former Gyeonggi Province governor, vowed to continue his presidential campaigning Friday, but he announced he will disband his presidential camp. His latest move is interpreted that despite his decision to return to the UNDP primary race, he would focus on winning the hearts and minds of people, instead of resorting to support from the UNDP.

During a press conference held on September 21 in his camp office in Yeouido, Seoul, Sohn said, "I will break away from old politics and lead the party in opening up brand new politics. We should free ourselves from old political tactics.” He introduced several new campaign strategies, announcing that he will disband his primary election camp and close up his campaign office in Yeouido, southwestern Seoul.

He also pledged to root out the potential evil of illicitly mobilizing voters in the ongoing primary race, saying that, “I will recommit myself to the pledge I made to fulfill public desire.”

He emphasized his determination not to betray the UNDP, and vowed, “Even if I lose the presidential race, I will bring about a total change to old politics. Reforming the UNDP will shape the nation’s political landscape.”

He didn’t hide his desire to win the presidential election, but expressed his discomfort in fighting a losing battle. He said, “I cannot say if I could win the race at the moment. I do not have the faintest idea about that. What I can say is that I am ready to meet the challenges ahead.” Sohn did not appear in the UNDP’s scheduled televised debate in Busan yesterday afternoon, but he said he would attend further speech sessions.

The content of Sohn’s press conference was reportedly kept secret until the last minute except for a few core campaigners and lawmakers of Sohn’s camp. His campaigners only stressed his return to the primary race and future participation in TV debates.

It seemed that Sohn decided to make a drastic move to turn the tide, facing his poor performance in the party primary and the criticism that old politics is recurring in the United New Democratic Party. He seemed to believe that wrangling in the party, which failed to gain the public’s trust, would benefit neither the party nor him.

Some experts say that it will not be easy for Sohn to return to the party quietly after expressing frustration over the allegations that his rival Chung Dong-young’s camp mobilized supporters to polling stations. Given the fact that his exit from the race would have meant the end of Sohn’s current quest for the presidency, Sohn would have chosen a dramatic move, asserting the breaking away of new politics from old tactics.

It was reported that he has been considering whether he mobilized election college members in the run up to the primary elections in Gwangju and Jeonnam scheduled on September 29. The lawmaker who submitted the proposal said, “I knew today that Sohn did in fact refuse to accept it.”

The lawmakers from Sohn’s camp showed a mixed response to the abrupt announcement. Rep. Han Gwang-won said, “It was impressive.” But other lawmakers did not hide their distress regarding Sohn’s new approach.

A camp aide said, “The assessment is not bad within the camp. During his seclusion, the downward supporting rate in the Honam region stopped and support for Chung Dong-young, a former unification minister, also lost momentum.”

However, some lawmakers within the camp raised their suspicions that Sohn’s idea will not provide substantial benefits in the primary. They say that winning the party primary election would not be possible without winning support among UNDP members.

Some experts even raised their eyebrows, saying that Sohn’s move may foretell his intention to drop from the party race. They believe that Sohn intends to wrap up his battle for the presidency rather than engage in political mud-sling, and aims to run in the next president election. However, some predict that if the tables turn in favor of him, he still has a chance to win in the mobile election and polls.

The primary is expected to become a fierce battle between the former Gyeonggi Province governor and the former unification minister. Sohn is promoting a campaign motto of “cleaning up the old political tactics,” while Chung is pushing the race based on his political strength in shaping organization.

Sohn’s camp filed a complaint with the UNDP fair primary election committee, submitting material evidence of Chung’s illicit mobilizing of voters in the primary election in Chungbuk on September 16. The committee decided to launch a task force team led by lawmaker Woo Won-shik to investigate the case. Based on the investigation results, either Sohn or Chung is likely to suffer a blow.

The primary is also expected to be determined by the support of senior party members. Mun Hui-sang, Yoo In-tae and Jeong Dae-cheol were previously expected to support Sohn, but they refrain from claming their backing for Sohn at the moment. Experts say that the senior members will ask Sohn not to give up in the party primary, while aiming to provide fair grounds for the upcoming presidential election.

mindy@donga.com sys1201@donga.com