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Leftist wins Seoul mayoral race: How it could alter South Korea's ties with North Korea

Voters in Seoul elected a leftist for mayor and showed their discontent with the status quo. The winner, Park Won-soon, ran on a message of 'change' that could affect South Korea's ties with North Korea.

By Donald KirkCorrespondent / October 26, 2011

Lawyer-turned-activist Park Won-soon, an independent candidate for mayor of Seoul, South Korea celebrates his victory at his campaign office Wednesday.

Kang Jin-Hyeong/Newsis/Reuters

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Seoul, South Korea

A leftist lawyer with a long background espousing radical causes won a decisive victory Wednesday in an election for mayor of Seoul that has serious implications for policies in dealing with North Korea.

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Park Won-soon, an activist and human rights lawyer who has called for withdrawal of US troops and the repeal of the National Security law for tracking Communist sympathizers and spies, easily defeated Na Kyung-won, a National Assembly member who ran for the ruling conservative party. With nearly all the votes counted, he had 53 percent against 46 percent for Ms. Na.

Wednesday night as his victory was assured, Mr. Park credited voters with showing “common sense and principles” in a contest that reflected severe differences in social class and income.

The election highlights the deep discontent many South Koreans have with a system in which the country’s sprawling conglomerates, led by Samsung and Hyundai Motor, have grown increasingly rich, while average citizens struggle to make ends meet amid rising inflation and unemployment.

One of the country’s most powerful financial officials, Kwon Hyouk-se, governor of the Financial Supervisory Service, acknowledged the discontent, saying “Korea does have to contend with the problem of social disharmony.” He called the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, which has caught on here in demonstrations in the financial district, “an expression of the [US] frustration at the gains and advantages financial firms and their executives enjoy even after one of the worst financial crises ever.”

Mr. Kwon told the American Chamber of Commerce that “many attribute this to uneven sharing of growth and prosperity” amid “voices calling for more responsible corporate citizenship in our financial industry.”

The middle class

The accuracy of that view was borne out as the returns rolled in, showing Park ahead in every district of this national capital of 10 million people except for the wealthiest neighborhoods south of the Han River that bisects the city.

Park appeared to have widespread support among young middle-class office workers.

“We are struggling so much, we are not even ‘middle class’ any more,” says office manager Kim Yun-mee, reflecting growing unhappiness with the Grand National Party, the conservative organization that controls the central government. “They are good only for the rich people,” she says. “Look at the whole economy. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer.”

The previous mayor

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