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[Election 2017] Support rising for Sim, Hong

By Jo He-rim

Published : April 27, 2017 - 15:36

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Two presidential candidates on opposite ends of the political spectrum are making unusual progress in their popularity: Hong Joon-pyo of the conservative Liberty Korea Party and Sim Sang-jeung of the progressive Justice Party.

A Realmeter poll, released Thursday, showed the hard-line conservative Hong with 13 percent support, up 2.5 percentage points from the previous week. This is in spite of the controversy of an anecdote in his autobiography that he helped a friend with a failed sexual assault attempt during his college years.

Progressive candidate Sim came in fourth in the poll, with 7.5 percent support, her highest figure so far.

Sim Sang-jeung of the progressive Justice Party and Hong Joon-pyo of the conservative Liberty Korea Party (Yonhap) Sim Sang-jeung of the progressive Justice Party and Hong Joon-pyo of the conservative Liberty Korea Party (Yonhap)

Overall, Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party of Korea widened his lead to 44.4 percent support, while centrist Ahn Cheol-soo of the People’s Party suffered a 5.6 percentage point drop to 22.8 percent. Rep. Yoo Seong-min of the conservative splinter Bareun Party came in fifth with 5.4 percent.

Pundits say one of the reasons behind Hong’s rise in support could be that conservative supporters who initially eyed the centrist Ahn are changing their minds and supporting Hong instead. The poll showed that Hong’s popularity edged up to garner some 20 percent in the southeastern Yeongnam region, which is considered the home turf of conservatives.

“Please complete the race as a single candidate, Ahn Cheol-soo. You are my pacemaker,” Hong wrote in a post via Facebook.

Sim, the only female candidate, who started with a support rating of near zero at the beginning of the race, appears to have made some headway through four televised debates, pundits said.

She made some “killer blows” during the debates. At a televised debate Tuesday, she criticized Moon for his remarks against homosexuality.

“Homosexuality is not something you can approve or disapprove of. It is a sexual identity,” she said in a jab at Moon who had commented he “does not approve of” homosexuality.

One day after the debate, Sim’s party received some 250 new members -- about 10 times the daily average, according to Sim’s election camp. Donations for Sim’s camp marked some 150 million won ($132,000) on that single day.

Such support is a great help for the minor party, which only holds six parliamentary seats and is not recognized as a parliamentary negotiation bloc.

Sim, who has asserted she will finish the race, showed confidence and aims to garner double-digit support in the election slated for May 9.

“First I will beat Rep. Hong and would like to form a competitive composition to become the main rival to the current front-runner (Moon),” she said in a forum Thursday.

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