Rep. Song Young-gil, former chairman of the liberal Democratic Party of Korea, speaks during a press conference held at the National Assembly on Sunday. (Joint Press Corps)
The five-term lawmaker said in a press briefing Sunday that he intends to officially start his campaign for the Seoul mayoral post in the following week, saying he is willing to give up his remaining two years of his legislative term and bear the party’s flag for a difficult challenge.
“Our party was deeply worried about who to nominate for the Seoul mayoral election, and there were no heavyweights looking to join the race early on right past the presidential election,” Song said.
“Many members of the Seoul Metropolitan Council showed support for me to join the race, and many of our party members individually expressed their wish for me to run for Seoul mayor.”
Song said he did not intend to participate in the local elections as a candidate by any means in assuming responsibility for the narrow defeat of Lee Jae-myung and the Democratic Party in the presidential election held last month.
While many within the Democratic Party have voiced the need to present fresh figures to bear the party’s flag in the local elections, others have expressed the need to selectively push for high-profile figures in 17 key metropolitan and gubernatorial posts, and Song has frequently been mentioned among them.
Among these 17 key posts, Seoul mayor and Gyeonggi Province governor are touted as the most important, as these two regions involve the most votes and control of the greatest budgets of local governments.
Song, whose constituency is in a district of Incheon, moved his address to Songpa-gu, southern Seoul, on April 1 to register for the Seoul mayoral election. He registered with the Democratic Party as a candidate for primaries on Thursday.
Many criticized Song for joining the race on the notion he should be willing to let younger talent run in elections and follow up on his promise for a generational shift.
In January, as the chairman of the party, Song said he would introduce new bylaws to limit the number of terms lawmakers can serve for the same constituency to three, adding he would not seek to extend his legislative term in the next legislative election in 2024.
That he is running in another election and essentially looking to extend his political career goes directly against his pledge, critics say.
But Song defended his bid for Seoul mayor, saying he is merely responding to the calls of his supporters and that he intends to strictly abide by the bylaws and rules set for the primary race of the Democratic Party.
Song is believed to compete against five liberal party figures in the primaries, including Rep. Park Ju-min and former Rep. Kim Jin-ai.
For the Democratic Party, which has suffered a big slump in voter support from Seoul, picking a candidate to run against Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon of the conservative People Power Party has been an extremely tall challenge, as many have feared a clear win for Oh whoever he fights against.
The Democratic Party lost much of its support from a series of real estate controversies and skyrocketing housing prices, and the sentiment was widely reflected in the outcomes of the mayoral by-elections in April 2021 and the presidential election in March 2022.
The former liberal party chairman said he recognizes it will be “extremely difficult” to compete against Oh in the Seoul mayoral race, but he emphasized his presence in the election is needed to boost the party’s chances to succeed in the local elections.
A Realmeter survey of 1,015 adults based in Seoul conducted from Monday to Tuesday showed Oh at the front with 50.4 percent support against Song with 36.7 percent in a hypothetical two-way race between them.
Song vowed to diligently prepare pledges and strategize his campaign for the mayoral race, saying he looks forward to debates with Oh centered on policies and ideas instead of defamation. His campaign will emphasize strategies needed to grow Seoul into a global city, he added.
By Ko Jun-tae (firstname.lastname@example.org)