Verbal sparring intensifies in Seoul mayoral race ahead of by-election

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April 5 (UPI) — With only two days away until by-elections in South Korea’s two biggest cities, candidates for Seoul mayor faced off one last time during a live television debate on local network Munhwa Broadcasting Corp.

Former Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon of the People Power Party took aim at his primary rival Park Young-sun, a former small business minister in President Moon Jae-in’s Cabinet, for her campaign pledge to ease a housing shortage, local television network SBS reported.

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Park had pledged to build 300,000 residential units as part of her public housing plan. The homes would be rented out to tenants, Park had said.

Oh said Park’s plans to destroy a 30-year-old rental apartment complex and rebuild would yield only 10,000 units.

Oh also called Park a “liar” and that her “entire candidacy is a lie.”

The remarks during the debate came after Park charged Oh of lying about a past land deal. Park said Oh engaged in land speculation and that the transaction took place under favorable terms during conservative Lee Myung-bak’s term as mayor.

“If a candidate who lies becomes mayor, there will be nothing more to teach the children,” Park said.

Recent polls indicate Oh is leading in the mayoral race ahead of by-elections in Seoul and Busan on Wednesday. In both cities, the opposition conservatives of the People Power Party are leading by 20 percentage points, according to Yonhap on Monday.

Analysts in South Korea remain cautious about predicting an Oh victory, however.

Kim Mi-hyun, director of RnSearch, told Yonhap there is a low chance of Park “turning the tables,” but other analysts said the “shy progressive” vote could change trends.

Conservative party chief Kim Chong-in said Monday a relatively high early voter turnout is a sign South Koreans are dissatisfied with the Moon administration, Newsis reported.

Kim said the administration has been issuing mixed messages: apologizing for a failed real estate policy while suggesting housing inflation occurred due to other global trends.

“They have been making ridiculous remarks,” Kim said.

Home prices have risen as much as 58% during Moon’s presidency.