With just one month left before Koreans take to the voting booths on May 9, it is still unknown who will become the president. Experts say the tables can be turned multiple times during the period. They say conservative voters’ choices, parties’ fielding unified candidates and the financial burden of election expenses can be the variables.
For now, Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party of Korea (DPK), who long enjoyed an unbeatable lead, is recently being closely chased by Ahn Cheol-soo of the rival People’s Party.
With no serious conservative challengers as a result of the downfall of the conservative parties along with former President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment, people are to whom conservative voters throw their support.
In the wake of the scandal, conservative voters initially supported former U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon. As he dropped out of the race, they moved to acting President Hwang Hyo-ahn, who said he would not run for election; then to South Chungcheong Province Governor An Hee-jung, who lost to Moon in the DPK’s primaries.
Now they seem to opt for Ahn, as many conservative voters with the “anybody but Moon” stance will look for ways to keep Moon out of Cheong Wa Dae, analysts say.
Ahn’s support rate jumped to 35 percent last week from 19 percent of the previous week, according to Gallup Korea poll, closely chasing Moon, 38 percent. And 42 percent of conservative respondents said they would vote for Ahn, compared to 22 percent for Hong Joon-pyo of the Liberty Korea Party (LKP) and 5 percent for Yoo Seong-min of the Bareun Party.
It is yet to be seen whether the conservatives will keep supporting Ahn. If he keeps rising and maintaining the two-way competition with Moon, analysts say, they may do so to prevent dead votes. But if Moon regains the lead, they may leave Ahn.
It also remains to be seen if Ahn, Hong and Yoo can form some kind of alliance against frontrunner Moon.
However, the possibility of an anti-Moon coalition led by Ahn is decreasing as Ahn’s support alone is increasing. The centrist politician also cannot risk losing support from the liberal side of the political spectrum by joining hands with conservative candidates. Instead, Hong and Yoo may seek alliance without Ahn to unite the conservatives.
Considering election expenses, Yoo’s alliance with Hong or Ahn could be possible. According to the National Election Commission, only when a candidate gains over 15 percent of votes in the presidential poll, his or her campaign expenses will be fully recovered with a national subsidy, and those with over 10 percent, half of the cost will be covered. Those who earn less than 10 percent get nothing back. Yoo has suffered low single-digit support rate while Hong’s is at around 10 percent.