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Decade later, Oh makes return as Seoul mayor

Main opposition People Power Party's Seoul mayoral candidate Oh Se-hoon speaks to party members at the party headquarters on Yeouido, Seoul, Wednesday, as they watch the results of the exit poll which showed Oh's likely victory. Korea Times photo by Choi Won-suk
Main opposition People Power Party's Seoul mayoral candidate Oh Se-hoon speaks to party members at the party headquarters on Yeouido, Seoul, Wednesday, as they watch the results of the exit poll which showed Oh's likely victory. Korea Times photo by Choi Won-suk

By Jung Da-min

Oh Se-hoon of the conservative main opposition People Power Party (PPP) has become the mayor of Seoul for the third time ― first in 2006, then in 2010 and finally this year.

Born in 1961, Oh became a lawyer in 1991 after passing the national bar exam. He made his political debut in 2000 when he was elected to represent the Gangnam-B constituency in the 16th general election as a lawmaker of the main opposition Grand National Party, a predecessor of the PPP.

In 2006, Oh was elected as the youngest mayor of Seoul at the age of 45. His political presence grew even bigger when he was re-elected as mayor in 2010, beating former Prime Minister Han Myeong-sook and when he started to be mentioned as a potential presidential candidate of the country's conservative bloc.

But his political career faced a setback after he resigned from the mayoral post in 2011 over a failed campaign opposing the introduction of free lunches for all school students regardless of their parents' financial status. He proposed a referendum on the issue, but it was rejected due to low voter turnout. Oh staked his mayoralty on the result at the time, calling the free lunch program a populist policy.

Oh was succeeded by former Mayor Park Won-soon, a liberal, independent candidate who later joined the progressive Democratic Party of Korea. Park served three consecutive terms to become the longest-serving mayor, until he committed suicide last July after sexual harassment allegations were raised against him by his secretary who had filed a police complaint.

After his resignation, Oh's political career faced a bumpy road, with him losing two general elections in 2016 and 2020.

In 2016, he competed against the DPK's Chung Sye-kyun in the Jongno constituency, which is often called the country's No.1 political district, but lost. His following bid to join the 21st National Assembly in 2020 was unsuccessful too as he lost in Seoul's Gwangjin-B district to DPK candidate Ko Min-jung, a former spokeswoman for President Moon Jae-in and a political rookie.

Oh has since been preparing to run in the next presidential election set to be held in March 2022, but declared his bid for the Seoul mayoral post in January. After winning the PPP's ticket in the party's primary by beating former four-term lawmaker Na Kyung-won and former two-term lawmaker Oh Shin-hwan, Oh passed another competition against Ahn Cheol-soo, the head of the minor opposition Peoples' Party, to become the single unified candidate representing the opposition.

And he has taken the mayoral post again by beating Park Young-sun of the ruling DPK. His victory is expected to give him a boost in his political career, providing him a greater chance to bid for the presidency, possibly in 2027.


Jung Da-min damin.jung@koreatimes.co.kr


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