Seoul Residents Pick New Mayor in Bellwether Vote

Posted October 26th, 2011 at 2:40 am (UTC-5)
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Residents of South Korea's capital are voting for a new mayor Wednesday in a contest seen as an indicator of the ruling party's prospects in national elections next year.

Officials reported a brisk turnout in the voting, which pits a rising star in the ruling Grand National Party against a political novice whose campaign echoed sentiments of the U.S. “Occupy Wall Street” movement.

The conservative GNP has thrown its resources behind Na Kyung-won, who polling shows enjoys solid support from older voters but has trouble appealing to younger residents frustrated with GNP policies.

Activist lawyer Park Won-soon is running as an independent and has the support of the opposition Democratic Party, which would like to hand the GNP an embarrassing defeat ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections next year.

Park has pledged, if elected, to be a “welfare mayor.” In one campaign advertisement that echoed the Wall Street protesters, he railed against the widening gap between the richest one percent of the population and the other 99 percent.

Na has urged a more cautious approach to social spending, warning that South Korea must avoid the kind of policies that led Greece into its fiscal crisis.

The election was forced by the early resignation of former Mayor Oh Se-hoon after he failed to push through a referendum on a controversial welfare measure.

Oh, a GNP stalwart, had tried to roll back a measure approved by the liberal city council to extend free lunches to all schoolchildren.

The referendum failed when barely 25 percent of Seoul's 8.4 million eligible voters cast ballots, falling short of the 33 percent required for the vote to count.