South Korea’s two left-leaning presidential hopefuls held merger talks on Tuesday on picking a single candidate to challenge conservative front-runner Park Geun-hye in an increasingly tight race.
Moon Jae-in, from the main opposition Democratic United Party, and Ahn Cheol-soo, a software mogul running as an independent, said they would do their best to reach a compromise that would require one of them to drop out from the race.
“I am well aware that... it is the people’s great wish that I and Ahn form a single candidacy and achieve the administrative change by all means,” Moon told reporters before the closed-door meeting.
“We will... try to announce good news to people as early as possible,” he said.
Both men have faced growing calls for a merger to avoid splitting the liberal vote and effectively handing the presidency to Park, who has a lock on the electorate’s sizeable conservative bloc.
Polls suggest Park will easily win in the event of a three-horse race, but that the contest would be neck and neck in a face-off with Moon or Ahn.
Ahn called the meeting a “first step” towards a joint strategy for defeating the ruling conservatives in the December 19 poll.
Moon’s camp has been especially vocal on the need for a unified candidacy, while Ahn’s side has been more cautious, insisting on a commitment from Moon’s party to political reform.
Ahn has virtually no political experience but is enormously popular with young liberal voters, who see him as untainted by corruption or political or commercial abuse of power.
Although courted by politicians across the political spectrum, he has remained without party affiliation despite an obvious empathy with the liberal opposition.
Ahn has repeatedly attacked predatory capitalism and called for the overhaul of an economy dominated by a few powerful conglomerates, known as “chaebols”.
Moon’s supporters argue that their man would make the better candidate as he has the party base and political experiences necessary for the president in dealing with parliament.
Moon, a human rights lawyer and former pro-democracy activist, is best known for serving as a top aide to then-president Roh Moo-Hyun, who committed suicide in 2009.