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Kim declares governorship bid

Apr 20,2018
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Rep. Kim Kyoung-soo of the ruling Democratic Party declares his bid for the South Gyeongsang governorship in the National Assembly on Thursday. [YONHAP]
Rep. Kim Kyoung-soo of the ruling Democratic Party (DP) Thursday declared a bid for the South Gyeongsang governorship just hours after cancelling an announcement, refusing to bow to demands he stay out of the race after revelations of his connection to a powerful blogger suspected of manipulating online public opinion.

In his declaration, Kim said he would fully cooperate with any investigation and condemned opposition parties for what he called “absurd political attacks” on him.

“As I declare my bid for the South Gyeongsang governorship, I also declare my full willingness to be questioned if necessary,” said the first-term lawmaker at the National Assembly.

After Kim abruptly called off an announcement scheduled for 10:30 a.m., apparently affected by news reports that Kim Dong-won, a powerful blogger who goes by the ID Druking, was involved in a cybersmear campaign against candidate Ahn Cheol-soo in last year’s presidential election, many thought his bid was dead.

Instead, Kim expressed his determination to enter and win the race, undeterred by attacks from the opposition, saying, “I concluded that I cannot walk away from South Gyeongsang in a full crisis because of irresponsible political warfare.”

Both Kim, a confidante of President Moon Jae-in, and the Democratic Party are in a tight spot with the snowballing allegations that he was closely linked to Druking, who has been indicted on charges he manipulated online opinion in January using a program through which one is able to input multiple comments or likes for particular comments on news reports on Naver, Korea’s largest portal site.

The police have determined that Kim and his team in recent weeks made 614 likes for remarks criticizing President Moon Jae-in’s decision to field a joint women’s hockey team with North Korea at the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games. The police have expanded the probe into whether Kim was involved in online opinion manipulation operation in last year’s election - although to promote Moon at that time, not criticize him.

A document written by a political group run by Druking says it launched a five-day intensive negative cybercampaign against Ahn at a point in the campaign when his popularity was within three percentage points of frontrunner Moon.

The document was obtained exclusively by the JoongAng Ilbo on Thursday.

In the document, the group, whose name can be roughly translated as the Economic Coevolution Center, defined its campaign activity as “focused on defending” candidate Moon, which it said “differed from other pro-Moon groups” that ran negative campaigns against other contenders.

But it admitted that it ran a “full-fledged negative campaign against Ahn” after his approval surged to 37 percent, only three percentage points short of Moon’s 40 percent in a poll conducted between April 11 and 13, 2017, less than a month before the May 9 election.

“We launched the full-fledged negative campaign against Ahn calling him an avatar of MB,” says the group. MB is a common nickname for former President Lee Myung-bak, who is now imprisoned on corruption charges.

Ahn’s campaign team concluded in a post-election report that comparing Ahn to the former president and saying he would inherit policies from Lee was “one of the most decisive factors” in Ahn’s defeat.

Possibly because of the negative campaign, coupled with a poor performance in televised debates, Ahn’s approval declined to 30 percent while Moon led with 41 percent in a poll conducted between April 18 and 20. Ahn never recovered and ended the race in a distant third place with 21.4 percent of the votes.

The document was drawn up in January for a forum hosted by the Economic Coevolution Center at which former South Chungcheong Gov. An Hee-jung delivered a speech. The fact that Druking was able to get the sitting governor, who later resigned and was indicted for raping his secretary, to speak at the forum is seen as evidence the blogger wielded considerable influence within the DP, a claim vehemently denied by the party and the Blue House.

After media reports about the document, opposition parties condemned the DP and the Blue House, trying to compare the unfolding scandal to an online smear campaign perpetrated by state-run institutions in the 2012 presidential race to help then-candidate Park Geun-hye win, which she did. Moon was the losing candidate in that race.

The opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) called for a parliamentary probe into the matter Thursday, a day after it submitted a bill for an independent investigator led by a special prosecutor.

Kim Sung-tae, the LKP’s floor leader, visited the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency in protest of what he called “its attempt to conceal the truth.”

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