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Presidential race takes new turn

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Ruling Democratic Party of Korea's presidential candidate, Lee Jae-myung, center, speaks during his visit to a local market in Jeongeup, North Jeolla Province, Sunday. Yonhap
Ruling Democratic Party of Korea's presidential candidate, Lee Jae-myung, center, speaks during his visit to a local market in Jeongeup, North Jeolla Province, Sunday. Yonhap

Yoon settles internal dispute; Lee seeks to win support from working class

By Jung Da-min

The presidential race between the rival candidates of the ruling and main opposition parties has taken a new turn, with just around three months to go before the election, slated for March 9. Currently, Yoon Suk-yeol of the main opposition People Power Party (PPP) and Lee Jae-myung of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) are neck and neck in the race. Yoon had enjoyed a high level of support right after the PPP's held its primary in early November, but his lead has been narrowing, and he is even behind Lee in some opinion polls.

Lee took the lead with support from 35.5 percent of respondents, compared to Yoon's 34.6-percent support rate, according to a survey of 1,008 adults regarding their preferred presidential candidate, conducted from Nov. 27 to 29 by local pollster Research and Research at the request of local broadcaster Channel A. The gap was only 0.9 percentage point, but marked the first time for Lee to take the lead in an opinion poll of the public's preferred candidate in recent weeks.

In another survey of 1,000 adults conducted from Nov. 30 to Dec. 2 by local pollster Gallup Korea, Lee and Yoon both won support of 36 percent from the respondents. Support for Lee increased by 5 percentage points from the previous Gallup survey, conducted two weeks before, while that of Yoon dropped by 6 percentage points.

Political watchers say that the three-month period ahead of the presidential election is enough time in politics, especially during the digital era, where the flow of information is fast. They said that many variables are expected to change the landscape of the presidential race before the election. Some also said that whoever achieves a "golden cross" in the opinion polls with about a month left before the election is likely to be the final winner.

Amid the neck-and-neck race, both candidates have realigned their election camps.

Main opposition People Power Party (PPP)'s presidential candidate, Yoon Suk-yeol, right, meets with Kim Chong-in, former head of the PPP's emergency committee, who joined Yoon's election committee as its chief, at the PPP's headquarters in Yeouido, Seoul, Sunday, in this photo provided by the committee. Yonhap
Main opposition People Power Party (PPP)'s presidential candidate, Yoon Suk-yeol, right, meets with Kim Chong-in, former head of the PPP's emergency committee, who joined Yoon's election committee as its chief, at the PPP's headquarters in Yeouido, Seoul, Sunday, in this photo provided by the committee. Yonhap

Yoon has managed to settle an internal feud in his election camp by bringing back Kim Chong-in, the former head of the PPP's emergency committee, as the head of the party's election committee.

Yoon had announced Kim's appointment as the election committee chief on Nov. 21, but Kim turned down Yoon's call two days later, due to conflicts over the appointment of other committee members, including Kim Byong-joon, the former interim chief of the Liberty Korea Party, a predecessor of the PPP, as the standing committee co-chairman, along with party leader Lee Jun-seok.

Yoon also had conflicts with the young party leader, with Lee boycotting campaign schedules following controversies that he had been excluded from the decision making processes of Yoon's election committee. On Friday, Yoon cancelled other appointments to meet with Lee and settled the conflicts with Lee and Kim. Young party leader Lee and veteran politician Kim have had a close relationship.

"I think the most important thing is to wait and be patient for the right path, even if it takes a little bit of time. For a change of power, I can endure even greater difficulties. When we need to boldly push forward, we will push for it, but when we need to wait, we will wait. That is my leadership," Yoon wrote on Facebook, Sunday, vowing to cooperate with Lee and Kim further.

DPK candidate Lee is seeking to boost his support rate further by appealing to the public with his personal story of becoming a political heavyweight from his beginnings as a poor factory worker, while also dealing with the aftermath of the resignation of Prof. Cho Dong-youn of Seokyeong University's Department of Military Studies from the standing co-chairwoman position of his election committee. Cho tendered her resignation, Friday, just three days after she was appointed to the post, suffering political attacks over her private life, including having a child out of marriage.

During a campaign event at a local market in North Jeolla Province, Sunday, Lee said he would stop Yoon, a former prosecutor general, from making the country "for the prosecution, by the prosecution and of the prosecution," accusing the former top prosecutor of attempting to appoint prosecutors-turned-politicians to take the major posts of the government if he wins the next presidential election.

"The government should be a government that puts the people's livelihood first," Lee said, adding that Yoon's government, if inaugurated, would focus on political revenge against the current ruling bloc. Yoon had often clashed with the current Moon Jae-in government over the latter's prosecution reform policies while he was serving as the top prosecutor.



Jung Da-min damin.jung@koreatimes.co.kr


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