The presidential nominees of the ruling and main opposition blocs on Monday avowed fairness and growth, with the two widely differing in how they would go about approaching the goals.
Lee Jae-myung, presidential nominee for the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, said Monday at a forum held by TV Chosun that he envisions a South Korea where there is fair competition and where ample opportunities exist for those in need.
"The divide and conflict in our society are extreme, especially those for the younger generations," Lee said.
"They have to wage wars against their friends, not just compete with them, and they end up being enemies against one another, which is a tragic reality we are witnessing today. Solving this problem is a task to better our future."
As the country struggles with slow growth, Lee said it should focus on achieving an economic recovery by targeting carbon neutrality with an emphasis on increasing the proportion of renewable energy sources it uses.
He added that his government will invest 10 trillion won ($8.42 billion) to create new infrastructure for renewable energy sources so it can be harvested anywhere across the country.
His administration is also keen on increasing investment in basic scientific research and advanced technologies, Lee said, adding that sustainable growth is key in overcoming today’s crisis.
Lee has aligned himself with the Moon Jae-in administration on carbon neutrality. He advocates shunning traditional power sources and promoting eco-friendly energy sources.
Yoon Seok-youl, Lee's rival from the main opposition People Power Party, took the stand shortly after, also promising fairness and opportunity for voters, with his speech largely emphasizing the importance of strategic leadership in driving economic growth.
Fair competition is needed to stop the wealthy from unfairly passing on opportunities to the next generation, he said, adding that the "winner-takes-all" approach is not a mantra suited for a democratic society. Yoon added that his administration will promote international cooperation to bring back potential economic growth.
"There is a misbelief that liberal democracy is for winners and that the rest of the people are neglected, but all men are equal in their very existence," Yoon said.
"No one can rule over others, and individual rights have to be ensured. But if without basic economy and opportunity for education, the democracy would be in vain."
He also emphasized the need for responsible, comprehensive and new leadership to meet a new set of challenges such as individualism, climate change and low economic growth. Yoon again promised to "stay loyal to the public, not a select group of people."
The two candidates took the stand Monday as they both started afresh with new presidential campaign teams with a little more than 100 days left until the election on March 9.
Lee had vowed to revamp the campaign team, emphasizing in a party meeting Monday that it is "the first day of the new Democratic Party." He has repeatedly vowed to introduce policies targeted at helping disadvantaged young people.
"I apologize for driving the situation where the youth are undergoing fierce competition due to the mistakes of their older counterparts in lack of opportunities from today’s low-growth society," Lee said.
"They are in a situation where they fail and fall in the abyss of despair if they do not prevail in the competition."
The former Gyeonggi Province governor had emphasized expanding state-run welfare policies while introducing universal basic income. He has made a series of remarks on helping young voters who are concerned about unemployment and the lack of career opportunities after college.
His rival Yoon led his first party-level meeting Monday after announcing the three key leaders of his new campaign team a day earlier.
On Sunday the former chief prosecutor announced that former interim People Power Party leader Kim Chong-in would head the election committee, while current and former party leaders Lee Jun-seok and Kim Byong-joon would join as standing committee chairmen.
Former Democratic Party leader Kim Han-gil will serve as chairman of the so-called New Era Preparatory Committee.
The appointment comes as Yoon seeks to highlight comprehensive cooperation across political allegiances in forming his campaign team, a key emphasis of his presidential bid that has been centered on voicing his opposition to the Moon administration and his close aides.
"I am thinking of forming an election committee that combines the power of every young talent and experienced heavyweights of the party so that the party works as a single united force," Yoon said in the party meeting Monday.
"At the same time, every person should be a protagonist in this election campaign. The committee should be formed so that the administration will run smoothly after the transition of power, and the formation itself should be a process of uniting the people together."
Critics say Yoon's latest appointments are aimed at winning over politically neutral voters by attracting heavyweights from both liberal and conservative blocs.
Yet he has been struggling to convince his competitors from presidential primaries to join the election committee -- for example, Rep. Hong Joon-pyo, who came in second place in the primary despite earning greater public support in polls.
Recent poll results indicated that Lee and Yoon are neck and neck in a hypothetical multicandidate race.
A poll of 1,007 adults from the Korea Society Opinion Institute showed Monday that Yoon gained 40 percent support while Lee trailed him by just 0.5 percentage point at 39.5 percent.
Yoon's rating fell 5.6 percentage points from a week earlier, while Lee's rose 7.1 percentage points. Support for the People Power Party fell 1.3 percentage points to 41.2 percent while the figure for the ruling party added 1.8 percentage points to finish at 30.3 percent.
By Ko Jun-tae (email@example.com