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Opposition rivals raise talk of campaign merger as clock ticks

With candidate registration period less than a week away, opposition candidates bring campaign merger talk to surface

In the left photograph People Power Party presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol announces his science and technology pledges, and the right photograph shows Ahn Cheol-soo, People’s Party candidate, at a forum in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
In the left photograph People Power Party presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol announces his science and technology pledges, and the right photograph shows Ahn Cheol-soo, People’s Party candidate, at a forum in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
With less than 30 days to go to the March presidential election, candidates from opposition parties are bringing talks to merge their campaigns to the surface.

Yoon Suk-yeol of the main opposition People Power Party expressed for the first time his openness to unifying his candidacy with Ahn Cheol-soo of the minor opposition People’s Party in a media interview Monday.

Ahn, however, drew a line on merging campaigns, saying he has no intention of doing so.

In an interview with a local newspaper, Yoon said he is “not going to rule out the option of unifying candidacies.” In polls, Yoon is currently running neck and neck with the ruling Democratic Party of Korea’s presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung.

“If we were to unify our candidacy, the decision-making should not be done publicly, it should be done between myself and Ahn,” Yoon said.

“Ahn and I share the same goal of regime change. So if a campaign merger is possible, we should (pursue it).”

Ahn, who is running a distant third in polls behind Lee and Yoon, rejected the idea of a campaign merger after Yoon’s comments were published.

“I announced my candidacy to pursue regime change myself. My goal is not only to finish the (election) race, but to get elected,” Ahn said in a conference Tuesday.

He also said he has not thought of how to merge the campaigns as he does not have the intention of unifying their candidacies.

Ahn’s rejection, however, does not mean he’s closing the door on negotiations, and could just be part of his strategy, political pundits say.

In South Korea, merging campaigns has been used as a method among candidates to secure wins in presidential elections. Since the first direct presidential election in 1987, there have been three campaign mergers, two of which led to victory.

With the candidate registration period just around the corner on Sunday and Monday, merger supporters in the main opposition People Power Party are urging the minor opposition People’s Party campaign to accept “unification” -- or presumably absorption with Yoon as the ultimate candidate. The calls are bound to pile on pressure for Ahn, who is struggling with low support in polls at around the important 10 percent threshold.

Candidate registration is directly related to government compensation for campaign expenditures. Here, those registered as presidential candidates can have 50 percent of their electioneering costs compensated if they receive over 10 percent of the total valid votes. For full compensation, the candidates should secure over 15 percent.

“A campaign merger may decide the fate of the neck-and-neck race. We should unify candidacies before the candidate registration,” the People Power Party campaign team’s policy chief Won Hee-ryong said.

If the two opposition candidates do agree to merge, they will have to decide which candidate will become the flagbearer of the unified front.

On this, Yoon appears to be proposing direct negotiations, meaning the candidates would discuss and draw up an agreement.

Another way is to conduct debates and surveys to choose the candidate.

Ahn has reason to hesitate. Things did not end well for Ahn and incumbent President Moon Jae-in, whose respective first runs for presidency in 2012 failed. The two political blocs created more conflict in negotiating the details, and saw voters turn their backs against them entirely.

In the latest survey by KSOI on Monday, People Power Party’s Yoon posted a support of 44.6 percent, with Lee of the ruling party following at 38.4 percent. Ratings for Ahn of the People’s Party reached 8.3 percent and Sim Sang-jung of the minor progressive Justice Party stood at 2.9 percent.

Another survey on Monday showed Yoon leading Lee with 43.4 percent support to 38.1 percent. The survey, commissioned by TBS, was conducted from Friday to Saturday among 1,011 adults. 

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

By Jo He-rim (herim@heraldcorp.com)
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