South Korea’s presidential race narrowed as Ahn Cheol-soo, an advocate of a tougher stance against North Korea, surged in polling to be nearly level with left-leaning front-runner Moon Jae-in.
Ahead of the May 9 election, support for Ahn of the centrist People’s Party jumped from 19 percent a week ago to 35 percent, a Gallup Korea survey showed yesterday.
Moon, of the Democratic Party of Korea, garnered 38 percent support, up from 31 percent, the results showed.
The poll was the first taken by Gallup Korea since all major parties chose their candidates for an election triggered by last month’s ouster of former South Korean president Park Geun-hye amid a graft scandal.
The next leader is to face multiple tasks, including addressing the North Korean nuclear threat, Chinese retaliation over the deployment of the US’ Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-ballistic missile system and reform of family-run conglomerates that contributed to Park’s downfall.
Running third in the poll was Hong Joon-pyo of Park’s conservative Liberty Korea Party. Support for Hong climbed to 7 percent support, up from 4 percent a week earlier, the data showed.
Ahn, who has leaped into contention from a single-digit rating early last month, is probably attracting conservative voters, as well as supporters of some Democratic Party candidates who lost the nomination to Moon, political scientist Park Won-ho said.
“Some conservative voters are clearly shifting to Ahn simply because they don’t want Moon as president, while other conservatives actually like Ahn, because he tells them what they want to hear, like his position on THAAD,” said Park Won-ho, a Seoul National University professor who specializes in voting behavior and research methods.
Ahn, 55, on Thursday said the next president should continue to allow the US to install THAAD on South Korean soil.
The millionaire founder of an anti-virus software start-up said he would name former UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon as a special envoy to enlist other nations against the threat from North Korea, which test-fired another ballistic missile this week.
Moon, 64, who was runner-up to Park in 2012, favors a softer line on North Korea and has said he would review the decision to deploy THAAD.
He has fended off resurfaced accusations he is aligned with the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un by touting his background as a special forces veteran in South Korea’s military.
Moon has also vowed to clean up what he calls “deep-rooted evil” in society, such as the cozy ties between family-run business groups and successive governments.
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