With the clock ticking toward the May 9 presidential election, centrist Ahn Cheol-soo is quickly emerging as the candidate to challenge liberal front-runner Moon Jae-in.
While Moon of the main liberal Democratic Party of Korea maintaided a steady lead, Ahn of the People’s Party narrowed the gap, beating Moon’s in-party rival South Chungcheong Province Gov. An Hee-jung to come in second in local polls.
Centrist contender Ahn Cheol-soo of the People’s Party (Yonhap)
The rapid rise of the No. 2 figure is expected to eventually lead to a two-way showdown between Moon and Ahn, largely overshadowing other minor figures.
According to local pollster Realmeter on Thursday, Moon continued to top the list of candidates across the aisle with 35.2 percent support, while Ahn secured second place for the first time in 10 months, garnering 17.4 percent and absorbing much of the support of Gov. An.
The provincial governor was pushed to third place at 12.5 percent, seeing a drop of 5.1 percentage points.
Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung of the same party posted 9.5 percent, followed by conservative presidential hopeful Rep. Hong Joon-pyo of the Liberty Korea Party with 7.7 percent.
Moon and Ahn have seen sweeping victories in their respective parties’ primary races, tightening their grip on their flag-bearer positions. Moon secured a landslide win in the liberal stronghold region of the Jeolla provinces and his in-party rival Gov. An’s home turf, the Chungcheong provinces.
Ahn, vying with his party counterparts Rep. Sohn Hak-kyu and Deputy National Assembly Speaker Park Joo-sun, has nearly clenched the presidential nomination, taking more than a majority of votes across three regional primaries.
“The conservative party is currently very weak. I think the likely candidate to hold back Moon would be Ahn,” said Lee Jung-hee, a political professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.
The Democratic Party still has two more rounds of regional primaries, on Friday and Monday, before the final result will be announced. The People’s Party on Thursday held in-party voting for the southern city of Daegu, North Gyeongsang Province and Gangwon Province, and faces three more primaries to decide on their candidate Tuesday.
Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party of Korea (Yonhap)
In a hypothetical three-way competition between Moon, Ahn and conservative nominee Rep. Hong, Moon stands 22.2 percentage points ahead of runner-up Ahn, according to Thursday’s poll, which was conducted on 1,525 citizens.
Moon scored 47.2 percent support, with Ahn following at 25 percent. Rep. Hong’s support stood at 12.3 percent.
Pundits largely suggest two scenarios for this year’s presidential election: a two-way race between Moon and Ahn or a multilateral competition that would put front-runner Moon in a favorable position.
Moon and Ahn, both of whom are bidding for the presidency for a second time, have a shared history. In the 2012 presidential election, the two had attempted to form an alliance in the process of competing against the now impeached former President Park Geun-hye.
The then independent candidate Ahn eventually relinquished his candidacy before the end, after the two camps failed to reach an agreement.
Four years after that confrontation, the two are likely to meet again, now as two competitive potential candidates.
“If the race turns out to be between Moon and Ahn, the result will depend on what values voters pursue. Those seeking for ‘a clear change of regime’ via getting rid of social evils, which Moon promotes, would pick him, while those seeing value in a future-oriented coalition government would choose Ahn,” said Yoon Pyeong-joong, a professor of political philosophy at Hanshin University.
By Jo He-rim (email@example.com