By Yi Whan-woo

The two heavyweights for the Seoul mayoral race are engaged in an intensified smear campaign against each other in the run-up to the June 4 local elections.

Both Chung Mong-joon of the ruling Saenuri Party and Park Won-soon of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) had promised to keep their campaign effort at low-key in the wake of the Sewol ferry disaster

Chung ridiculed the campaign poster of Park, claiming it reminds one of the mudslinging used by his NPAD contender during the mayoral by-election in 2011.

Park is in his bid to retain his mayoral seat in the nation’s capital.

Chung mostly criticized Park first, a move seen as a desperate bid to cope with the widening gap between him and his main opposition challenger in the latest polls.

For instance, a survey conducted by Macromillembrain between Friday and Saturday showed Park lead Chung 44.3 percent to 29. 9 percent. The poll surveyed 700 Seoul citizens and had a margin of error of 37 percent. The pollster said Chung’s rating fell by 14 percentage points from early April, while Park’s inched up by 2 percentage points during the same time period.

On Saturday, the Saenuri Party candidate’s election camp accused Park’s wife, Kang Nan-hee, of failing to attend her husband’s campaigning activities, including volunteer services. Chung’s side said Kang’s behavior is in contrast to Park’s supposedly “people-friendly” image, especially for low-income families.

“We have not seen Kang in any of her husband’s campaigning activities, such as volunteer services for the citizens,” Chung’s camp said in a statement.

It also brought up the rumor that Kang may be overseas, which triggered speculation that she may be living a luxurious life abroad at a time of national mourning in the wake of the sinking of the Sewol ferry on April 16.

“Her whereabouts raises a question whether Park is a right candidate to represent the ordinary people as he claims,” it said. “Park should make clear whether it’s true his wife is outside the country or somewhere else.”

On Sunday, Chung also criticized the way Park was seen on his campaign poster, which shows his face from a rear view. The way he posed is different from other candidates, including Chung, who have shown their faces from the front view in their respective posters.

“I believe he was ashamed of facing voters after employing all those campaign strategies to smear his opponent in the 2011 mayoral by-election,” the Sanuri Party candidate said.

He referred to mudslinging from the opposition side against then-ruling party’s candidate Na Kyung-won who lost to Park. Rumors circulated that she spent billions of won for her facial care and it dealt a blow to her efforts to win the election.

Park fired back, Sunday.

“I will not tolerate any groundless rumors as well as smear campaigns against me and my family,” he told reporters. “I will take legal, political and social actions against those who are accountable for producing and spreading such groundless rumors.”

The NPAD candidate’s election camp said Chung’s criticism of Park’s poster stems from “jealously. ”

“The campaign poster was intended to show Park’s will to communicate with the people in his bid for the Seoul mayoral seat,” it said in a statement. “And Chung seems to be jealous that the voters are mainly showing interest toward Park’s poster over his. ”

The camp added Chung instead should take “good care” of his youngest son, who has been embroiled in a dispute over his politically-insensitive remark on Facebook on April 21.

The son, Ye-sun, 19, has faced public criticism since then for referring to the families of the missing passengers of the sunken ferry as “uncivilized” for yelling at President Park Geun-hye.