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Votes show an urban, rural divide
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승인 2010.07.17  11:38:04
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▲ A Jeju residents casting her vote in the gubernatorial election on June 2. Photo courtesy Media Jeju

At 11 p.m. on June 2, some five hours after the opening and counting of the first ballot box, Woo Keun Min was trailing behind Hyun Myung Kwan by 2.5 percent in the election to become Jeju governor. A television exit poll had earlier predicted victory for Woo by a narrow margin of 2 percent, but with just 35.8 per-cent of total votes counted, Hyun’s campaign staff was already setting up a stage for their candidate’s televised acceptance speech.

Woo was not ready to concede, however. He had secretly sent an advisor to Gujwa, his hometown and a rural precinct in northeast Jeju, who found that thousands of votes there were yet to be counted. Sure enough, Woo overtook Hyun by 0.84 percent points at 1:10 a.m. the next day with a landslide number of ballots cast for Woo in Gujwa and other rural precincts. Woo won even more votes in Sungsan and Pyoseon, his rival’s birthplace.

The ballot boxes opened and counted by midnight of June 2 were, as it turned out, mostly from Jeju’s urban precincts. Hyun won almost every urban precinct, notably scoring 1,300 to 1,400 more votes in Yeondong and Nohyeongdong, the new urban center of Jeju. Woo, on the other hand, prevailed mostly in rural districts, garnering in Gujwa alone some 3,700 more votes than Hyun, according to precinct by precinct ballot counts released by the National Election Commission.

Hyun’s supporters are composed of two key groups - immigrants from the mainland and young educated natives craving urban sophistication. It is no wonder that Hyun earned landslide victories in Yeondong and Nohyeongdong, which are full of apartment houses, the tangible symbol of urbanity among islanders.

Hyun is older than Woo but was still more popular among voters in their 20s and students, according to a Korea Research survey released on May 2, whereas Woo’s approval rating was markedly higher among voters in their 40s and small business owners.

Hyun’s former job at Samsung as secretary to chairman Lee Kun Hee was a compelling sign for his supporters that he may bring high-quality jobs to the island, along with all that is associated with the urban sophistication of Seoul. Hyun was clearly aware of his perceived strength among islanders: near the end of the election campaign when he promised to attract Samsung’s planned pharmaceutical plant to Jeju, along with 5,000 high-tech jobs.

In contrast, Woo was considered an old boy among his supporters, someone they know and feel comfortable with despite the sexual harassment scandal that tarnished his fourth term. It was no surprise that Woo earned a disproportionate number of votes in rural precincts, where the famous goendang (close relatives) culture of the island is still intact and alive.

Woo was given another four years in power in this election but he’d better be prepared for the socio-economic evolution of Jeju’s urban constituencies.

Nearly 70 percent of the island’s population currently lives in Jeju-si and new immigrants from the mainland mostly settle in the island’s urban districts. This may be a reason why Woo seems to be embracing some of the agenda proposed by Hyun.

Woo’s slogan for this term is “The world comes to Jeju and Jeju goes to the world.”

ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (
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