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Can Yoon Suk-yeol win on his own?

Polls offer hope, but concerns remain

Presidential nominee Yoon Suk-yeol of the main opposition People Power Party speaks Saturday during a campaign event held in Sejong. (Yonhap)
Presidential nominee Yoon Suk-yeol of the main opposition People Power Party speaks Saturday during a campaign event held in Sejong. (Yonhap)
There is growing opinion that presidential nominee Yoon Suk-yeol of the main opposition People Power Party should go it alone in the ongoing race as some consider it unnecessary for him to unite forces with others when his ratings have already recovered lost ground.

They believe there is no need for Yoon to merge forces with other opposition heavyweights for the election so it would become a two-way race between him and Lee Jae-myung of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea.

Such views come at a time when tension is growing between Yoon and his primary rival Rep. Hong Joon-pyo of the People Power Party.

The two met Wednesday to discuss Hong joining Yoon’s election campaign committee, but the talks ended without any progress, after media reports revealed that Hong requested Yoon to exert influence in nominating some figures for the upcoming legislative by-elections.

The revelation made it uncomfortable for Yoon to bring in Hong as a senior counsel for the campaign team, and Hong explicitly denounced Yoon for withdrawing the appointment. He even hinted at giving up his party membership.

Yet for Yoon, the appointment could spike criticism that he seemingly accepted Hong’s request and thereby unfairly swayed the People Power Party’s nomination procedures. Rep. Kwon Young-se, head of Yoon’s campaign team, implicitly denounced Hong for making an unfair request to Yoon.

"Now is a very important moment, and I recently made it clear that everyone in the party should be taking actions responsibly," Kwon said in a campaign committee meeting Thursday.

"Leadership figures for the party especially should be acting like leaders in this critical time of presidential election. If not, they should be deprived of their membership of the party, let alone their leadership statuses."

While some worry that Yoon and Hong have again parted ways in the ongoing race, analysts have hinted that Yoon may no longer need Hong to drum up support in his battle against Lee, as men in their 20s, a large portion of which expressed support for Hong in the primaries, have already sided with Yoon.

With heavy support from People Power Party Chairman Lee Jun-seok, another highly favored figure from the voter group, Yoon has already garnered much support from them, lessening the need for Yoon to try bringing Hong to the team.

A Gallup Korea survey of 1,002 voters that ran from Tuesday to Thursday found Lee and Yoon in a neck-and-neck race with Lee Jae-myung coming in at 34 percent against Yoon’s 33 percent. Yoon was leading the age group of 20s with 30 percent, followed by Lee Jae-myung with 22 percent.

Some surveys from the past week even found Yoon leading the race far ahead of Lee Jae-myung.

Analysts also speculate Yoon could stay put with good chances of winning even without unifying his candidacy with Ahn Cheol-soo from the minor opposition People’s Party, whose sudden rise in support could dwindle as Yoon recovers his.

Until the internal feud was resolved within the People Power Party, Ahn’s support rating went as high as 17 percent in surveys, and some recent polls still found Ahn with similarly high ratings. But other polls showed Ahn falling back to where he was before as the conflict was resolved and Yoon carried out seemingly successful campaign events.

Many predicted Yoon would work toward merging forces with Ahn, but Ahn has repeatedly denied any intention of unifying his candidacy with another candidate. Even if a merger happens, such stark opposition to the idea means the move could be highly costly and even draw opposition from internal forces.

Lee Jun-seok of the People Power Party has also been opposed to merging the candidacies, emphasizing that Yoon already has enough potential of his own to win the election without any help from outside forces.

"If unity is reached not for the sole interest in overturning the power, I fear there could be some image portrayed against the general interests of the people," he said in a radio interview Thursday.

"These images are things like making compromises in exchange of promising certain positions. Unification with clauses like that cannot bring much synergy."

Lee Jun-seok added that Yoon is already leading the polls after forming a new election campaign committee, which means he does not have to consider the option of unifying candidacies -- what Lee considers as tactics for second- and third-place candidates.

For more information regarding the survey results, visit the National Election Survey Deliberation Commission homepage.

By Ko Jun-tae (ko.juntae@heraldcorp.com)
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