Nominees from South Korea’s ruling and opposition parties registered candidacies for next month’s presidential election, squaring off after an independent withdrew from the race and endorsed the opposition.
Park Geun-hye, from the ruling New Frontier Party, and main opposition party challenger Moon Jae-in registered with the National Election Commission on Sunday ahead of the start of the official campaigning period on Tuesday, according to the candidates’ briefings reported on YTN TV.
At stake in the December 19 contest is stewardship of Asia’s fourth-biggest economy as the winner will have to tackle rising household debt and slowing growth after replacing Lee Myung-bak for a five-year term. Ahn Cheol-soo, an independent, withdrew from the race on Friday. Park, seeking to become the first female leader, said that she’ll quit politics unless she wins.
“If I fail to win the people’s trust in this presidential election, I’ll wrap up my journey as a politician,” Park, 60, said in a televised speech on Sunday. “Please allow me the last opportunity to serve the public.”
Park is leading in the contest, with 43.5 per cent support, compared with 39.9 per cent for Moon, according to a poll published on Monday in the Chosun Ilbo newspaper. The survey of 1,000 voters had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points and was conducted November 24-25, after Ahn withdrew.
Moon, 59, of the main opposition Democratic United Party, vowed to defeat Park while expressing gratitude to Ahn for the withdrawal.
“I’ll take the grave responsibility to reform South Korea’s politics,” said Moon, a former human-rights lawyer and chief of staff to late president Roh Moo-hyun.
Ahn’s decision to drop out will pose a threat to Park in the vote, said Sonn Ho-chul, a professor of political science at Seoul-based Sogang University. The move will bolster the opposition’s chances after Park’s two opponents bickered for weeks over conditions for joining forces, Sonn said.
Shares of Ahnlab, the antivirus software maker founded by Ahn, fell as much as the daily limit of 15 per cent on the Korea Exchange on Monday. The stock had surged to a record on January 4 on speculation Ahn would run for president.
“Those who made bets that the company would benefit from ties to Ahn if he got elected have been disappointed, and sentiment is unlikely to improve anytime soon,” Min Kim, an analyst at Hyundai Securities, said.
Sunny Electronics, whose vice-president previously worked for Ahnlab, also slumped by the daily limit 15 per cent. Share of Shinwoo, where Park’s sister-in-law once served as a non-executive director, rallied 15 per cent.