South Korea's presidential front runner Lee Myung-bak won major political support yesterday against a right-wing independent challenger, boosting his prospects in the Dec. 19 vote.
Park Geun-hye, who had narrowly lost the opposition Grand National Party's (GNP) primary to Lee, said she would work for his election and criticized the presidential bid by independent Lee Hoi-chang.
Her support was seen as essential if Lee Myung-bak is to fend off the challenge from former prime minister Lee Hoi-chang, who has staged two previous unsuccessful bids for the presidency.
Lee Hoi-chang, 72, last week quit the conservative GNP to stand as an independent, saying he wants to "save" the nation. He took aim at the front runner's alleged improper business dealings and supposedly soft stance on North Korea.
The GNP, bidding to return to power after a decade of liberal governments, bitterly denounced Lee Hoi-chang as a traitor who could split conservative ranks.
"I remain unchanged in my belief that the GNP has to return to power in the upcoming presidential election. In that sense, Lee Hoi-chang's presidential bid can't be justified," Park told reporters.
The daughter of authoritarian former president Park Chung-hee said nothing had changed since she vowed after the primary to support the GNP candidate.
Asked if she would campaign for him, she said: "I would do when the election comes. As a person who lost the primary, it is of great help for me to stay quiet right now."
Lee Myung-bak, a former construction company executive and ex-mayor of Seoul, had pleaded for Park's support.
He pledged on Sunday to make her his "precious political partner" and said her supporters need not fear they would be excluded from party nominations for next April's general election.
Lee Myung-bak, 66, had enjoyed public support of around 50 percent until rumors began circulating last month that Lee Hoi-chang would be a candidate.
A survey on Saturday showed about 41 percent backing the GNP candidate, with 20.6 percent for Lee Hoi-chang.
Chung Dong-young of the generally pro-government United New Democratic Party was third with 13.5 percent, according to the poll by Hankook Ilbo newspaper.