The ruling Saenuri Party's presidential hopeful Park Geun-hye has taken a beating in the polls triggered by her controversial views on South Korea's modern history and a string of scandals involving aides, political watchers said Thursday.
The downturn in the polls has raised questions about her "closed" leadership style and reluctance to listen to advice over issues that can sway votes ahead of the Dec. 19 presidential race.
The 60-year-old candidate has always been one of the front-runners and still enjoys support from the country's conservatives and older generation, but competition from Moon Jae-in, the presidential candidate from the main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP), and Ahn Cheol-soo, an independent with considerable backing from young people, has raised questions
about her abilities to be elected.
A poll by RealMeter carried out on 1,500 people on Tuesday and Wednesday, showed Park's ratings standing at just 42.5 percent compared to 48.3 percent for Ahn. This represents a sharp drop from an earlier survey released by the same pollster when Park was ahead with 44.7 percent to Ahn's 44.5 percent.
In an earlier RealMeter poll conducted on Monday and Tuesday, Moon, who had consistently trailed Park in the past, surpassed her.
In that poll, Moon's numbers stood at 47.1 percent vis-a-vis 44.0 percent for Park.
The Saenuri candidate's ratings started dipping after she said there were two verdicts on the infamous "Inhyukdang" incident, a remark that is seen as ignoring the justice system and overlooking the pain of the victims' families.
Inhyukdang, or the People's Revolution Party case, resulted in eight people being executed in 1975 for violating the country's harsh anti-Communist act. The incident is often cited as one of the worst abuses carried out under late President Park Chung-hee who ruled the country for 18 years. The former chief executive is the father of the Saenuri candidate.
"Park is still ahead in polls where all three candidates are surveyed by voters, but because there is a good chance that Moon and Ahn will reach an agreement and field a single contender, there is growing calls for Park to take steps to alleviate criticism," a party source, who declined to be identified said.
He added that she must also show she is serious about "remaking" herself before the Cheosok holidays. Considered the Korean equivalent of Thanksgiving Day, the holiday is important in an election year because it allows family and friends to exchange views on candidates. This year's Chuseok falls on Sept. 30.
Rep. Shim Jae-cheol was more blunt and said it is time for Park to make all-around apologies about abuses carried out under her father.
"Only by taking such a step and acknowledging past wrongs can the candidate move forward and shake off persistent criticism by the opposition on this issue," the lawmaker claimed.
The DUP has attacked Park everyday for what it perceives as misguided views on history.
Others concurred and predicted that with the December race likely to be very close everything must be done to win over people in their 40s and people not affiliates with any party that can give a candidate the critical edge.
Despite such calls, there are those in the party who are skeptical about Park making the change.
They pointed out Park has not taken steps to do more to revise her historic views even when she had the chance.
Besides not coping effectively with the past, Park has been haunted by scandals involving aides.
In early August, former lawmaker Hyun Ki-kwan, who played a role in picking candidates ahead of the April 11 general election, was accused of receiving 300 million won (US$267,600) from a political aspirant who subsequently became a lawmaker.
This was followed by revelations this week that former co-chairman of Park's primary campaign team, Hong Sa-duk, is under investigation for having received a total of 60 million won in illegal political funds from a businessman.
Adding more fuel to such troubles, former lawmaker Song Young-sun has been reported as asking a local businessmen for "contributions" while Rep. Lee Jae-young, is being questioned for having embezzled money from a company he runs and using it to give money to party officials.
All these developments have contributed to growing concern that things must change soon, before the public becomes irrevocably alienated with Park.
Party insiders said one way to cope with the crisis is to set up an official election team to take over her campaign.
They said such a team could gain public attention particularly if it includes a diverse range of participants that can highlight Park's drive to seek national unity.