Alarm bells are ringing for front-runner presidential candidate Moon Jae-in, amid emerging signs of candidacy consolidation among conservative and moderate contenders.
Two conservative camps -- Bareun Party and Liberty Korea Party -- are possibly forming an alliance for the May 9 election in order to block liberals from seizing power.
The two parties split from the now-defunct former ruling Saenuri Party in the wake of former conservative President Park Geun-hye’s scandal. Bareun lawmakers played a part in passing the bill on impeaching then-President Park last December, while Liberty Korea Party members opposed it.
Bareun Party lawmakers on Monday decided to propose a three-way coalition among its candidate Yoo Seong-min, Hong Joon-pyo of the Liberty Korea Party and Ahn Cheol-soo of the centrist People’s Party.
The decision came as Yoo’s support ratings remain at a marginal 3-5 percent range with just two weeks to go to the election. However, Yoo made clear his intention not to drop out from the race.
Liberty Party Korea’s Hong, who garners 7-10 percent in support ratings, welcomed Bareun’s unofficial proposal, while arguing that the alliance should be two-way. He stressed that Ahn, a centrist, cannot be part of the alliance, due to their fundamental difference in political identity.
Ahn’s camp, at least on the surface, appeared to be skeptical about the idea.
“Even if (a party officially) suggests it to us, we would not negotiate the matter (with the proposer),” said Park Jie-won, the chairman of the People’s Party.
Moon’s camp played down the impact of the potential move.
“I think is it has no justification, no practical gain and no feasibility,” said Jun Byung-hun, the camp’s chief strategist.
The envisioned anti-Moon coalition or the pan-conservative coalition would entail tough challenges, as each camp would have different coalition calculations.
As for Hong, the best scenario is for him to enlist “floating” conservative voters in Daegu-North Gyeongsang Province (his political home turf), Gangwon Province and some districts in southern Seoul behind him.
For this he is trying to frame the election as a showdown between liberals and conservatives, thereby isolating the centrist Ahn, the second most popular candidate commanding support of about 30 percent.
Ahn is also standing at the crossroads, failing to narrow his gap with front-runner Moon. Recent polls show that the margin between him and Moon has widened to about 10 percentage points.
Despite party leader Park’s dismissal, some People’s Party heavyweights including Sohn Hak-kyu are raising the necessity of talks with the Bareun Party, not the Liberty Korea Party.
Some political watchers say that it is too risky for Ahn to partner with conservatives, citing the mixed political tendencies of Ahn supporters.
According to a poll by Gallup Korea, 19 percent of voters who backed Ahn identified themselves as liberals. If Ahn forms an alliance with a conservative camp, there is a high possibility that a large proportion of the liberal-minded voters would move to Moon.
As for Moon, the worst scenario is a one-on-one competition with Ahn, with both Yoo and Hong withdrawing from the race, with or without a coalition deal with the centrist candidate.
Polls show that if it is down to a one-on-one race between Moon and Ahn, their support would be within the margin of error, with a 1 to 3 percentage point gap.
By Kim Yon-se (firstname.lastname@example.org