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[Election 2017] Seoul voters weigh Moon, Ahn

The Korea Herald is publishing a series of articles that try to capture the voter sentiment in key regions. The following is the third installment on Seoul, the nation’s capital. -- Ed.

Nearly half of the nation’s 50 million population resides in Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi Province and the number of votes up for grabs here is proportionally great -- roughly 17 million.

Like other metropolitan cities of the world, the “greater Seoul area” also boasts diverse communities. Many residents here came from all over the country -- some even from outside the country. For this reason, the regions have often held the deciding vote in elections, with much of the rest of South Korea divided between the liberal west and conservative east.

With two weeks left to the May 9 presidential election, it wasn’t easy to see which way this region will vote. Voters that The Korea Herald spoke to were almost evenly divided between Moon Jae-in and Ahn Cheol-soo, the two front-runners from the liberal and centrist camps.
 
The two front-runners from the centrist and liberal camps, Ahn Cheol-soo and Moon Jae-in (Yonhap)
The two front-runners from the centrist and liberal camps, Ahn Cheol-soo and Moon Jae-in (Yonhap)

Recent regional polls show that Moon of the Democratic Party of Korea has the lead over Ahn of the People’s Party, while Hong Joon-pyo of the conservative Liberty Korea Party is at a distant third place, in line with nationwide results.

In the latest Gallup Korea survey, Moon garnered 38 percent of support against Ahn’s 34 percent and Hong’s 9 percent. His nationwide rating was 41 percent, while that of Ahn and Hong were 30 percent and 9 percent, respectively.

“I think Moon is the most eligible person to get rid of society’s past wrongdoings and return this country to normal,” said Kim In-pyo who introduced himself as a 26-year-old company worker.

Seoul was the hotbed of monthslong anti-government rallies sparked by the sweeping corruption scandal involving former conservative President Park Geun-hye.

Kim and many other Moon supporters had joined the massive candlelight protests against Park and now seem to see Moon as the only candidate who can push for a new social paradigm.

“Park Geun-hye should strictly be punished and the wrongdoings of the past should be cleared out with a new regime,” Um Joo-yeon, 28, a Yoga teacher living in Seongdong-gu in east Seoul said. “Moon knows it and has the anger needed to lead such action, but Ahn lacks that factor.”

More moderate voters, however, showed interest in Ahn, a centrist seeking to appeal to a wider spectrum of voters, even the conservatives.

A taxi driver, Park Yoon-sang, 60, said he seeks for a leader who relies less on ideology and more on administering state affairs.

“Ahn seems to be an upright and clean figure. I think people want a leader who does not carry a strong political tint,” Park said. “We do not want those with vested rights to take back power. We need a new political paradigm. A fresh new figure should be able to govern the country.”

A 70-year-old retiree, who wanted to be identified only by his surname Oh, echoed the view, adding that he wants a “rational” president.

Hong Kyung-hee, 57, who voted for Park in the last election, also backed Ahn as a new figure in politics. Her friend who refused to give her name agreed, but pointed out that Ahn also has a weak image.

“Though I prefer Ahn (to be the next president) than Moon, I am not so sure about his leadership. I am worried he may be controlled by others,” the Seodaemun-gu resident said.

The anti-sentiment against conservative candidates was widely prevalent.

Hong and other conservative candidates are far behind Moon and Ahn, polls show.

“I support Hong for his conservative policies,” said 26-year-old Lee Won-yul who moved to Seoul from his hometown in Daegu, a conservative stronghold. “He holds strong opinions on national security and he has the highest understanding of market liberalism. He also has the power to restrain the strong labor unions.”

Seoul and metropolitan areas have had slightly left-leaning turnouts in past elections -- particularly those held under conservative administrations -- as the busy urban communities have a tendency to seek change, Jun Kye-wan, a political commentator said.

“In the past when the race was mainly between liberals and conservatives, it was easier to predict which way voters would vote in this region. Now, it is harder for anyone to say anything about the results since the race is between liberal Moon and centrist Ahn,” Jun explained.

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