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Presidential aspirants strive to gain foothold

Win in general elections expected to boost their presidential prospects

The following is the third in a series of articles on the April 11 general elections. ― Ed.



Presidential hopefuls are striving to secure their foothold in the changing political landscape ahead of the upcoming general elections, seen as a crucial gauge of public sentiment prior to the presidential election in December.

Competition among them appears stiffer than ever as the parliamentary and presidential elections are to take place in the same year for the first time in nearly two decades.

A victory in the April 11 polls through their aggressive campaigning would likely boost their standing in their respective parties, while a defeat will cause the party rank-and-file to doubt their leadership and capability to win a tougher contest, analysts say.

Most conspicuous in the campaigning is Rep. Park Geun-hye, the interim leader of the ruling Saenuri Party.

The daughter of former President Park Chung-hee was once the undisputed favorite in opinion polls. But her frontrunner status has been undermined by the rise of popular liberals such as entrepreneur-turned-professor Ahn Cheol-soo.

At the helm of her party’s central campaign committee, Park recently visited a series of constituencies, stumping for her party’s candidates.

She paid particular attention to the Sasang district in Busan where Son Su-jo, a novice Saenuri candidate, is pitted against Moon Jae-in of the main opposition Democratic United Party, former chief of staff for the late President Roh Moo-hyun.

Keen attention has been drawn to the strategically important district as Moon has risen as another potential liberal presidential candidate narrowing the sizable lead Park once enjoyed.

In an opinion poll released on March 26 by the local pollster Realmeter, Park led Moon by 5.6 percentage points in a one-on-one race. In the previous poll, the gap was 8.0 percentage points.

While seeking to woo voters in his own district, Moon is reaching out to a number of constituencies in the southeastern region of Busan and South Gyeongsang Province on the back of growing sentiment against the ruling party and incumbent administration.

An electoral success in the region is likely to enhance his status in the broader opposition camp as well as the DUP, helping his bid for Cheong Wa Dae, observers said.

Although he has yet to officially enter politics, Ahn Cheol-soo, dean of Seoul National University’s Graduate School of Convergence Science and Technology, appears to be exerting his influence in the elections as well.

He has recently expressed his support for some DUP candidates including In Jae-geun, the widow of former DUP advisor Kim Geun-tae. She is running in Dobong-A district in Seoul.

Ahn has recently indicated he could run for presidency, saying that he could “endure politics” should his political role be able to help social development.

Ahn has been in the limelight for his potential candidacy with a wide backing from younger voters who admire him for his entrepreneurialism, nonpartisanship and willingness to keep facing challenges.

Ahn’s emergence comes as the public shows disenchantment with establishment politicians who they claim have become ensnared in wasteful partisan disputes.

In the recent opinion poll that pitted Ahn against Park, Ahn led Park by 2.1 percentage points. In the multiple-candidate race, the poll put Park in first place with 34.6 percent support. Moon ranked second with 20.4 percent while Ahn got third place with 15.5 percent support.

While Park is putting herself at the forefront of the election battle, her potential competitors in the ruling party are seen moving to keep her in check, saying that she will be held accountable for the electoral outcome.

Her inter-party rivals include former party chairman Rep. Chung Mong-joon and Gyeonggi Gov. Kim Moon-soo. Former Prime Minister Chung Un-chan is also mentioned as an aspirant eying the Saenuri ticket for the presidential race.

Chung resigned last week as the head of the Commission on Shared Growth for Large and Small Companies, sparking speculation that he is preparing for his presidential bid.

Other liberal heavyweights such as senior DUP advisor Sohn Hak-kyu, DUP Rep. Chung Dong-young and Ryu Si-min, co-head of the far-left United Progressive Party, are also striving to boost the electoral prospects of their opposition alliance.

Sohn did not run in the general elections while Chung is seeking to win an election in Gangnam-B district in Seoul, where former Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon is running under the Saenuri banner. Ryu was put on the UPP’s proportional representation list.

By Song Sang-ho (sshluck@heraldcorp.com)
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