Moon-Ahn rivalry heats up presidential race

By Kim Rahn

Moon Jae-in, the presidential candidate of the largest Democratic Party of Korea (DPK), is finding his lead in the race shaking on surging support for Ahn Cheol-soo from the third-largest People’s Party.

His lead has been narrowing significantly in opinion polls, and in a hypothetical two-way race, Ahn has begun outrunning Moon. As a result of this, the war of words between supporters of the two is escalating.

A poll by Micromill Embrain showed Wednesday that Moon had support of 38.2 percent, followed by Ahn with 33.2 percent, when including candidates Hong Joon-pyo of the Liberty Korea Party (LKP), Sim Sang-jung of the Justice Party, Yoo Seong-min of the Bareun Party and the independent Kim Chong-in.

But in a two-way race, Ahn overtook Moon, with support of 47 percent to 40.8 percent.

According to another poll by Realmeter, Moon gained 41.3 percent and Ahn, 34.5 percent. Realmeter also ran a poll on a hypothetical two-way race in which Moon was the unified candidate of the DPK and the Justice Party, and Ahn was the unified nominee of the People’s Party, the Bareun Party and the LKP. In that scenario, 46.3 percent of respondents chose Moon and 42.8 percent, Ahn.

As Ahn is rapidly catching up with Moon, the DPK has intensified its offensive against him. They are attempting to downplay his soaring popularity, saying it is based on a convention bounce as the People’s Party’s primaries have just finished.

“It is like beer frothing a lot when poured quickly,” DPK Rep. Min Byung-doo said in a radio interview. “Ahn’s popularity has a lot of bubbles.”

Rep. Park Kwang-on also pointed out that the People’s Party is a minor party which cannot pass bills on its own.

“What will happen when the candidate of a minor party, which has only 40 seats in the National Assembly, becomes the president?” Park asked. “Also, people will choose a candidate according to his experience in state affairs, not for his image. In that sense, they will elect Moon.”

Countering the DPK’s attack, Ahn himself targeted Moon who started his political career along with former President Roh Moo-hyun and has been touted as a political heir to the latter.

“An incapable man should not take a high position only because he inherited a legacy,” Ahn said at a forum in Seoul, Thursday. “We should build a country on fair chances, where capability beats background.”

Other members of the People’s Party called on Moon to explain allegations that he unfairly helped his son land a job at a state-run company and peddled influence to conceal a drunk-driving accident involving one of Roh’s in-laws while serving as a senior presidential secretary.

With Ahn’s growing popularity, the DPK faces another problem ― members defecting to the People’s Party.

Rep. Lee Un-ju was the first to do so after Ahn’s candidacy was confirmed earlier this week.

“I’m leaving the DPK for the People’s Party for new politics and a new Korea,” Lee said in a press briefing Thursday. “I hope to make a new Korea together with Ahn and other members of the People’s Party, who, to change the nation’s politics, have chosen a path which has never been taken.”

Before Lee, the DPK former interim leader Kim Chong-in left the party March 8 amid a conflict with the mainstream faction tied to Moon. He recently announced a bid to run for the presidency as an independent. Rep. Choi Myung-ghil also left the party to join Kim, March 29.

Speculation is high that more DPK members may leave the party to join either Ahn or Kim, with rumors saying the number could be over 10.

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