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Political Novice Victorious in Seoul's Mayoral Election


Lawyer-turned-activist Park Won-soon, the victor for the race of Mayor of Seoul Mayor, pictured during his election campaign in Seoul, October 25, 2011.

Lawyer-turned-activist Park Won-soon, the victor for the race of Mayor of Seoul Mayor, pictured during his election campaign in Seoul, October 25, 2011.

Park Won-soon, a liberal independent candidate backed by the opposition, has won the fiercely fought mayoral election in South Korea's capital. The contest is viewed as an indicator of which way the political winds are blowing for the country's parliamentary and presidential elections next year.

The solid victory by Park Won-soon, a political novice and long-time civic activist, is seen as a significant setback for the governing conservative Grand National Party.

A political novice, is the victor in Seoul's closely watched mayoral election. He dashed the hopes of a seasoned and prominent politician, Na Kyung-won of the ruling Grand National Party, to become the capital city's first female mayor.

Park says his election is a victory for all of Seoul's ten-and-a-half million people.

The victorious candidate told supporters early Thursday he will start his administration by taking care of those citizens who have suffered. He adds that the "engine of universal welfare" will make Seoul a city where people are the priority.

The defeated Na said she takes the results as an opportunity for introspection. Na, without mentioning Park by name, added she hopes the new mayor will be a great mayor for the future of Seoul.

Sociology Professor Chung Il-joon of Korea University says Park's victory has significant ramifications for the national political scene.

"The Seoul mayoral election is a barometer of Korean politics," Chung says. "Seoul is very symbolic, it is not just one big city. It is almost one-fifth of the population. Through this election result we can speculate what will happen next year, the general election and presidential election."

The previous mayor, Oh Se-hoon of the GNP, resigned in August, to take responsibility for a bungled referendum over free school lunches, a program he opposed.

The two major candidates vying to succeed him, to some degree, were overshadowed by their respective high profile backers.

Na received support from another prominent female politician, Park Geun-hye. Her father, Park Chung-hee, was South Korea's president for 18 years until he was assassinated in 1979.

Park herself, no relation to the new mayor, has been regarded as the leading candidate for the GNP's nomination for president next year. But Na's defeat is a setback for the late president's daughter's apparent aspirations for the country's highest office.

The victorious independent candidate for Seoul mayor received a late boost from one of the country's most popular public figures, a software entrepreneur who became a university professor, Ahn Cheol-soo.

Ahn himself had considered a run for mayor amid polls showing him to be the favorite if he had indeed entered the race.

Na, who is 47, enjoyed stronger support among older voters and homeowners.

A retired 67-year-old woman, who only wanted to be identified as Ms. Chun, says she voted for Na because she considered the candidate honest and intelligent.

Chun said she disagreed with those who said that only a man can be mayor. She says she respects and loves Na because she walked the streets as a mother stating her opinions clearly and that is what a mayor is supposed to do.

Park, who is 53, was favored by younger voters. A 34 year old male voter, who only wanted to be identified by his family name, Cho, says he trusts Park because he is taking politics in a non-traditional direction while Na cannot relate to the working class.

Cho said the activist Park could have made a lot of money as a lawyer, but he gave up a privileged life to create charity ventures.

However, some liberals expressed hesitation about supporting Park, concerned he is too far to the left, noting his repeated criticism of South Korean government policies towards the communist North.

During the campaign, Park also embraced the language of the recent demonstrations in New York under the "Occupy Wall Street" banner. He criticized the influence of big business in South Korea and the country's close ties to the United States.

Communist North Korea also weighed in on the mayoral race in a commentary in the ruling party newspaper Rodong Sinmun. It urged Seoul's voters to bring about new politics by voting against the GNP's candidate.

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