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Moon clinches early lead for DP’s nomination

Mar 28,2017
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Moon Jae-in, former chairman of the Democratic Party, raises his hand to react to supporters in a gymnasium in Gwangju on Monday after he won a majority of the votes in the party’s first primary, which was held in its stronghold of Jeolla. [YONHAP]
GWANGJU ─ Democratic Party frontrunner Moon Jae-in handily won the party’s first primary Monday with 60.2 percent of votes, bringing him a step closer to becoming the nominee in the May 9 presidential election.

Moon won 142,343 votes from both Democratic Party (DP) members and those without DP membership in Gwangju and the two Jeolla provinces, boosting his chances of winning the DP nomination amid rising prospects that liberals will reclaim the Blue House it surrendered to conservatives in 2007 and failed to recapture thereafter.

For this year’s four primaries, the DP is allowing non-party members to partake in the process as long as they register to vote beforehand.

South Chungcheong Governor An Hee-jung came in a distant second with 20 percent of votes, 47,215, a disappointing outcome for the 52-year-old contender who hoped for an upset victory in the first primary.

Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung inched behind An with 19.4 percent of votes, or 45,846. Goyang Mayor Choi Sung came in fourth with a scant 0.4 percent, or 954 votes.

The final tally was a combination of three exercises: March 22 voting by both DP members and non-party members at voting booths in the Jeolla region, a telephone survey of the two groups on Saturday and Sunday, and Monday voting by DP delegates at the Kwangju Women’s Universiad Stadium in Gwangju. The delegates are senior members of the party.

Moon’s overwhelming victory in the Jeolla region is a huge boost to his presidential prospects with the early presidential election only 43 days away.

For Governor An, who was hoping to narrow the gap with Moon, the Monday outcome was definitely bad news.

Adding to An’s trouble is his narrow lead of Mayor Lee, whose support was only 0.6 percent lower.

The mood at the stadium, packed with 7,000 people, was upbeat and cheerful throughout the five-hour event - a reflection of the hope for a change of power from conservatives to liberals for the first time in 10 years.

Supporters dressed in different colors depending on their favored candidate: blue for Moon, orange for Lee and yellow for An. They chanted their names in ways that felt like a K-pop concert, not a political event.

The three contenders considered the Gwangju primary the most important to win because of the political significance the city maintains for the liberals.

Home to the 1980 democratic uprising against the Chun Doo Hwan military government, Gwangju and the Jeolla region - which is referred to as Honam in Korean - has been a traditional power base for the DP, though the party suffered a stunning humiliation in Jeolla in last year’s general election as voters turned to People’s Party candidates. Many believed the DP had taken their votes for granted for decades.

To emphasize the importance of the Gwangju primary, political analysts point to candidate Roh Moo-hyun’s upset victory in Gwangju against Rhee In-je in March 2002, a surprise that paved the way for Roh’s clinching of the party nomination and the presidency nine months later.

Moon and An each emphasized their connections to the region and the high regard they had for its people. Moon, who received over 90 percent of votes from the Jeolla region in the 2012 presidential race - which he lost to former President Park Geun-hye - promised in his speech that he would “enshrine” the spirit of the May 18 struggle for democracy in the Constitution. The Gwangju uprising began on May 18, 1980.

“I will enshrine the spirit of the May uprising in the new Constitution and bring stern punishment to those who seek to smear the May 18 uprising,” proclaimed the former human rights lawyer. He said he would consider the Jeolla region to be the most important regional partner in his administration if elected.

To appeal to Gwangju-based DP delegates, governor An remarked in his address that it was the Chun military government’s 1980 massacre against the Gwangju people that made him “determined to walk on the path of a revolutionary.” It led to his arrest at the age of 18, he said.

With the Gwangju primary won by Moon, the DP is now moving on with its second primary in the Chungcheong region scheduled for Wednesday in Daejeon. The country’s largest political party was conducting telephone surveys of both party members and non-party members on Monday and Tuesday.

The DP will tally votes from March 22 in the Chungcheong region, telephone surveys for both Chungcheong-based DP and non-DP members and votes from DP delegates at the Daejeon primary on Wednesday.

After Wednesday’s primary, the DP will hold a third in the Gyeongsang region in Busan Friday. The fourth primary is scheduled for Monday in Seoul for Gangwon and Gyeonggi provinces and Seoul.

If none of the DP’s three main contenders wins a majority in the April 3 primary, the DP will move onto a run-off election in which the top two candidates compete. The run-off election is scheduled for April 8. The venue has yet to be decided.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]