|Cho Hee-yeon, left, superintendent-elect of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, salutes the national flag in a ceremony in Seoul, Thursday. Lee Jae-jeong, right, superintendent-elect of Gyeonggi Province, offers incense during a visit to the memorial altar for the victims of the Sewol ferry accident in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province, Thursday. / Yonhap
Liberals sweep 13 out of 17 regional chiefs
By Jun Ji-hye, Kim Da-ye
Liberal-minded candidates swept 13 out of 17 city and provincial education chief posts at stake in the June 4 local elections.
This represents a remarkable development from six liberal educators who won four years ago, and could signify a significant step away from the right in education policy. Already, many cities and provinces have been in upheaval over ideological orientation on what to teach in the classroom.
The person receiving the most attention is Cho Hee-yeon, a professor at Sungkonghoe University, who was elected superintendent of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education (SMOE).
Cho has made no secret of what he is planning to do. "I think parents' demands for a new education direction after the Sewol ferry accident were reflected in the vote," Cho said in an interview with a radio station.
Cho won 39.1 percent of the vote compare to his conservative rivals Moon Yong-lin and Koh Seung-duk who garnered 30.7 percent and 23.3 percent, respectively.
His victory was regarded as a surprise because he had been falling behind his rivals in most public opinion polls in which Koh enjoyed a lead.
The other 12 liberal superintendents are Kim Seok-joon (Busan), Lee Cheong-yeon (Incheon), Jang Hwee-gook (Gwangju), Choi Gyo-jin (Sejong), Lee Jae-jeong (Gyeonggi Province), Min Byung-hee (Gangwon Province), Kim Byung-woo (North Chungcheong Province), Kim Ji-cheol (South Chungcheong Province), Kim Seung-hwan (North Jeolla Province), Jang Man-chae (South Jeolla Province), Park Jong-hoon (South Gyeongsang Province) and Lee Seok-moon (Jeju Province).
The four conservative superintendents are Woo Dong-gi (Daegu), Seol Dong-ho (Daejeon), Kim Bok-man (Ulsan) and Lee Yeong-woo (North Gyeongsang Province).
Observers pointed out that the conservatives' failure to produce single candidates and the impact of the Sewol tragedy led to the progressive candidates' success.
In Seoul, for example, Moon Yong-lin and Koh Seung-duk not only split the conservative vote, but also tainted each other's reputation.
The angry public sentiment caused by the ferry disaster is also believed to have played a role.
Liberal pundit and professor at Dongyang University Chin Jung-kwon, said on Twitter, "It was rather the elections for superintendents, which the Sewol accident influenced. Considering most victims were students, the results are only natural, not unexpected."
Conservative media outlets pointed out that eight out of the superintendent-elects were once members of the progressive Korea Teachers & Education Worker's Union (KTU), whose legal status has been challenged by the government.
The government had asked the KTU to not accept dismissed teachers as members, but the union rejected this.
The KTU warned in a statement that the central government's education policies will face obstacles.
"We expect clashes between the government and superintendents regarding designation of autonomous private high schools in September, national textbooks for Korean history in mid June, flexible work schedules for teachers in the second half, punishment against teachers who protested regarding the Sewol disaster and the court's ruling on the KTU's legal status in June 19," the union said.
During the lead-up to the election, Cho gave three core campaign pledges _ relieving the pain of students preparing for college entrance exams, guaranteeing their safety and health, and eradicating irrationality in education.
"I will also strengthen education welfare and expand innovative schools," he said.
He also expressed his opposition to a Korean history textbook published by Kyohak Publishing, which critics say has conservative-biased content that glorifies former authoritarian leaders and justifies Japan's colonization of Korea.