▲ Woo Keun Min and his wife, Park Seung Yeon, celebrate his election as governor of Jeju, to applause and cheering from his supports, below. Photo courtesy Media Jeju
Despite a good deal of controversy surrounding his campaign, former governor Woo Keun Min was elected to the position again on May 2 as an independent candidate, although the margin by which he won was the smallest in Jeju’s election history.
Woo received 41.4 percent (110, 588) of the vote, followed closely by Hyun Myung Kwan, former chief executive of Samsung C&T Corporation and also an independent, who received 40.6 percent (108, 336) of the vote.
Democratic Party candidate, Ko Hee Bum, won 19.19 percent (36,443). The gap between the governor-elect and his closest rival was only 2,252 votes, or 0.8 of the total.
Voter turnout for the election, in which 424,098 residents of the island’s 550,000 population were eligible to vote, was 65.1 percent — the highest in the nation. However, it was around 2.2 percent lower than the 2006 local elections, according to the National Election Commission.
Opinion polls conducted immediately before the election indicated that Woo would win the election by a 2 percent margin and exit polls also predicted a close race between Woo and Hyun.
Contrary to the polls, however, Hyun led the ballot count from the beginning and lead by 5,000 votes at one point. Hyun’s supporters were excited and almost certain that the polls had been wrong and their festive mood continued until the last stage of the counting. Then, when 94.5 percent of the ballots had been counted, a dramatic reversal began. The gap between the two narrowed and, finally, Woo started outstripping Hyun. It was a nerve-racking battle, which ended in Woo’s victory.
Some tilted their heads at the result as if questioning it. Woo has previously been accused of sexual harassment and found guilty by the Supreme Court, and lost his governorship due to a breach of election laws. He also, in the lead-up to this race, rejoined the Democratic Party and then left again 16 days later in the midst of a controversy about his past. Considering such serious and critical matters, it seemed highly unlikely he would overcome and win the election.
▲ Photo courtesy Media Jeju
Woo has pledged to boost the local economy by exporting goods. Since there are few big companies on the island, selling Jeju’s fresh products to global markets, in Woo’s eyes, should be one of the major drivers of the local economy. He has stated that he believes Jeju can reach 1 trillion won in exports. He also promised to bring back the local government system which was abolished to propel the Special Self-Governing Province. Under the current system, the mayors of Jeju City and Seogwipo City are appointed by the governor, not elected by residents. Woo said that, “The system does not help grass-roots democracy,” and vowed to “bring the right of the people back to elect their mayors.” He has also said that he will seek balanced development between the northern and southern parts of the island. Since the southern area lags far behind in many statistics, more investment is necessary there, he said.
Appointed twice by the central government before the direct election system was adopted in 1987 and elected twice by the people of Jeju afterwards, Woo will serve from July for the fifth time. This is a record not only in Jeju but also in South Korea as a whole.
Winning the election gives Woo the opportunity to repair his reputation. But, as seen during the campaign, there are critical and sensitive issues that could continue to dog him. However, it appears that voters elected him not because of his reputation or past errors, but in the hope that he will benefit the future of the island.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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