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Fierce War between Two Underdog Contenders

Posted December. 05, 2007 08:26,   


The presidential election is now only about two weeks away. Except for the leading candidate Lee Myung-bak, the other contenders are waging fierce campaigns to secure the second spot. In particular, independent Lee Hoi-chang and Chung Dong-young of the United New Democratic Party (UNDP) have been strongly battling each other to win more than 20 percent of the votes. Lee and Chung had both expected, from the DA’s probe into the “BBK scandal,” a huge breakthrough to topple front-runner Lee Myung-bak of the Grand National Party (GNP). To their dismay, the prosecution will dismiss all allegations against GNP candidate Lee. With the “free ride” help no longer in play, Lee and Chung must try to boost their approval ratings on their own. The outcome of the presidential election may sway the result in the following general election in 2008. Thus, even when the presidential bid seems like a long shot for them, each candidate cannot yield the second spot to the other.

Charging for the Second Spot-

The December 4 KBS poll shows that GNP candidate Lee is leading the race with a 42.1 % approval rating, followed by Chung (18.9 %), and Lee (18.2 %). (The last two lie within the statistical margin of error.)

Chung first broke the 12 percent mark in the November 27 Munhwa Ilbo survey with a 17.8 percent approval rate. For about a week now, he has remained somewhere between in the 17–18 % range.

Compared with Chung, Lee Hoi-chang commands a solid group of avid supporters. However, he has never broken out of the 18–20 % box.

Han Gwi-yeong, senior researcher at the Korea Society Opinion Institute, explained, “Neither Lee nor Chung gained any momentum to attract more voters. They had hinged too much on the BBK scandal and led the public to the expectation that something huge would come out of it. But nothing did, so the voters will not change their stance.”

Both believe that the one who slides back to the third place not only will lose the presidential election, but also will bleed in the upcoming general election in April 2008.

Lee Hoi-chang already expressed his intention to run through the presidential campaign to the general election in a recent interview with the Dong-A Ilbo. Likewise, UNDP members have urged candidate Chung to consolidate both his and the party’s grip among the home state supporters who are mostly located in the Jeolla provinces.

Lee Hoi-chang: Neck-and-Neck, But Continuing Lead over Chung-

Citing his own polls, Lee alleges that he’s been maintaining a 4–5 percent lead over Chung.

Lee expects more voters to turn their backs on leading GNP candidate Lee Myung-bak, even after the DA office exonerates him, if he continues his attack on the integrity of the prosecution. He projects that he could raise his rating up to 30 percent by appealing to the swing voters in the rural areas and small cities.

Lee further plans to make the best out of his new coalition with the People First Party, which is based in the central region of South Korea, and to court more GNP members, led by former GNP leader Park Geun-hye, from Daegu City and N. Gyeongsang Province. Lee believes that he could then beat GNP candidate Lee in those regions, and could win the election itself or, at least, secure the second spot.

Lee succeeded in enticing former Democratic Party congressmen Lee Yun-su and Ahn Dong-seon, along with 37 powerful Democratic Party regional office leaders. By doing so, he plans to deter Chung from consolidating Chung’s lead in the Democratic Party stronghold, or the Jeolla region.

Chung: Open to All Options-

On the other hand, Chung seeks to form alliances with as many politicians and candidates as possible. Chung’s campaign communications director Jeong Ki-nam confirmed yesterday, “We are trying to form an alliance with candidate Moon. We are also making efforts to induce endorsement from luminaries such as former Prime Minister Goh Kun and former Seoul National University President Chung Un-chan.”

Chung intends to complete the coalition with Moon by the end of this week. At the same time, he is trying to patch up an alliance with Democrat candidate Rhee In-je, which previously broke up.

Chung’s campaign believes that to advance to the 20 percent level requires winning the liberal voters in their 30s and 40s. Thus, it has recommended to Chung that he should jump on the anti-Roh bandwagon more aggressively. Chung’s spokesman Choi commented, “We conducted interviews, and prospective voters have told us they would vote for Chung if he proved himself different from Roh more clearly.”

Their calculations and moves seem to have come belatedly. However, Chung seems to follow the advice. In his campaign last week, Chung used the word to which Roh has shown the most hysterical reaction: tax bomb. Roh has repeatedly bluffed, “I have made everything so deep in the system. Any new president cannot change or modify my scheme,” alluding to the consolidated real estate tax. But Chung promises to revamp it.

cij1999@donga.com gun43@donga.com