South Korea’s real estate scandal boosts opposition in Seoul mayoral race

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March 29 (UPI) — An opposition candidate in the Seoul mayoral race is leading in polls ahead of the April 7 by-election in the South Korean capital.

Former Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon, of the People Power Party, is leading in the race by double digits at 55.7%, while main rival Park Young-sun, a former minister in President Moon Jae-in’s Cabinet, received an approval rating of 30.3% in a new Kantar Korea poll, News 1 reported Monday.

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The Seoul mayoral race, seen as a bellwether for South Korean politics, is taking place ahead of a presidential election next year.

The survey asked respondents which candidate for whom they would vote and what factors were driving their choices.

About 80% of respondents said their choice was based on a recent real estate speculation scandal that involved government employees in the Moon administration. Only 17.7% of those surveyed said the scandal did not factor into their choice.

Under Moon, who promised during his 2017 presidential campaign to expand welfare programs, Seoul has enacted new tax laws that penalize home flippers on both sides of the transaction.

The policies, designed to curb rising home prices, backfired in 2020. Home prices have risen as much as 58% during Moon’s presidency.

Oh and Park held their first televised debate Monday evening on the Munhwa Broadcasting Corp. network. According to Korea Economic Daily, the two candidates exchanged blames mostly focused on real estate.

Oh condemned the Moon administration for skyrocketing rent and home prices, and said that the government is responsible for the “vicious cycle” of housing inflation.

Park said she “didn’t think the administration has done a good job,” but added that as mayor she would “solve all the problems” that are causing grief for city residents, the report said.

Park also accused Oh of land speculation after local reports said Oh received more than $3 million for a land transaction in southern Seoul, when his predecessor and fellow conservative Lee Myung-bak was mayor.

The 2009 land sale may not be weighing on voters, however.

A poll conducted by Embrain Public showed only 4.1% of respondents said the land deal factored into their view of the candidate, according to Channel A on Monday.