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Hopefuls gear up election campaigns

With a maximum of 55 days left to the election, South Korea’s presidential hopefuls sped up preparations for their campaigns Tuesday, with some declaring their bids in the race and others registering their primary candidacy with the election body.

The government has yet to finalize when the nation will elect the successor of Park Geun-hye, who was removed from her position Friday over a corruption scandal, but May 9 is widely seen as the most feasible date. 

Rep. Kim Jin-tae, a staunch supporter of former President Park (Yonhap)
Rep. Kim Jin-tae, a staunch supporter of former President Park (Yonhap)

At the National Assembly on Tuesday, two contenders from the conservative Liberty Korea Party announced they would run in the election.

Rep. Kim Jin-tae, a staunch supporter of former President Park, vowed to rebuild the “patriotic conservatives force,” seeking to represent those who waved national flags at rallies to protest the impeachment.

“I could not ignore the calls of the patriotic citizens. It is my first time to run for a presidential election but I am confident of my will for truth and freedom,” Rep. Kim said at a press conference.

North Gyeongsang Gov. Kim Kwan-yong from the same party also declared he would run, calling himself a candidate who has 25 years of political experience.

On the same day, four contenders of the liberal Democratic Party of Korea -- former party leader Moon Jae-in, South Chungcheong Gov. An Hee-jung, Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung and Goyang Mayor Choi Sung -- gathered at the party’s headquarters in central Seoul to declare a fair primary race.

(From left) Goyang Mayor Choi Sung, Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung, Moon Jae-in, former head of the Democratic Party, and South Chungcheong Gov. An Hee-jung pose for a photo ahead of the public debate held in Seoul on March 14, 2017. (Yonhap)
(From left) Goyang Mayor Choi Sung, Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung, Moon Jae-in, former head of the Democratic Party, and South Chungcheong Gov. An Hee-jung pose for a photo ahead of the public debate held in Seoul on March 14, 2017. (Yonhap)

“After a competitive but fair primary, we will rise to power to right the wrong and build a better country,” said Moon, a clear front-runner across the aisle, at their in-house event.

Later in the day, they wrangled over critical issues regarding national security, the economy and political strategies in their third in-house debate, which was broadcast live on TV.

The liberal Democratic Party which led the movement to impeach Park, is currently ahead in the race, with support ratings of its three aspirants adding up to some 60 percent in polls.

The leading figure Moon registered as a preliminary presidential candidate at the nation’s election committee at 2 p.m. on Tuesday. He may now engage in campaign activities in a limited scope.

Rep. Sim Sang-jeong, who was the first to be chosen as a presidential candidate of the minor left-wing Justice Party, was the first to register Monday.

The Liberty Korea Party which is struggling to repair its tarnished image, has the most number of presidential aspirants, with eight of its member having already announced their election run as of Tuesday. All of them, however, are not gaining much attention.

Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn who is viewed as a potential candidate of the conservative party, is the most popular in the conservative bloc, local polls show. But he has not yet revealed his plan to take part in the election race. South Gyeongsang Province Gov. Hong Joon-pyo is also viewed as a strong potential candidate for the camp and will reportedly declare his bid for presidency Saturday.

Discussion has also began on a possible merger between some minor parties -- the splinter conservative Bareun Party and liberal centrist People’s Party -- as two presidential aspirants, Rep. Sohn Hak-kyu of the People’s Party and Rep. Yoo Seong-min of the Bareun Party held closed-door talks to compete with Moon.

Sohn and Yoo are set to vie in their party primaries with Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo and Gyeonggi Gov. Nam Kyung-pil, respectively.

All the political parties are expected to decide on their presidential candidates between the end of March and early April.

By Jo He-rim (herim@heraldcorp.com)
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