(from left) Candidates of the upcoming presidential election:
Moon Jae-in of the Minju Party of Korea (MPK),; Ahn Cheol-soo of the People’s Party,; Hong Joon-pyo on the ticket of the Liberty Korea Party,; and Ryu Soong-min of the Barun Party.
Following the impeachment of former President Park Geun-hye, an unprecedented case in Korean constitution history, a new trend is developing ahead of the upcoming presidential election on May 9. Such long-standing trends as support based on regionalism are gone, and a new dark horse has emerged. Behind the new wave of development, departing from the conventional dichotomous thinking of the left and the right and the resorting to self-centered extremists are “new-centrist inclined” voters. A public survey commissioned to the Kantar Public by the daily Chosun Ilbo between April 7 and 8 showed that Ahn Cheol-soo of the People’s Party was leading Moon Jae-in of the Minju Party of Korea (MPK) 34.4 percent: 32.2 percent, reversing the trend of Moon being an outright front-runner.
Surprisingly, presidential hopeful Ahn outran candidate Moon in the echelon of centrists. It means that when a balance was maintained among centrist-inclined voters, Moon maintained the No. 1 position in the multi-candidate structure, but a weight shift in centrist-inclined balance in favor of Ahn has enabled him to take the lead in the latest survey.
A notable trend is an increase in the size of centrist-inclined voters. Gallup Korea surveys, being conducted each week among 1,000 voters indicate that centrist-inclined voters are on the rise. A public survey in the first week of January showed that respondents who replied they were centrists stood at 25 percent. But the figure rose to 26.4 percent in the first week of February, 30.9 percent in the first week of March and to 33.1 percent in the first week of April. On the other hand, the surveys saw respondents who said they were liberals and conservatives decline from 38.6 percent to 31.8 percent and from 26.7 percent to 24.9 percent, respectively.
Experts said many voters were showing signs of not backing into their “left” vs. right” corners in the course of the wake of the impeachment of former President Park. After 10 years of liberal governments and nine years of conservative governments, voters are showing signs of being sick of political ideology. This trend is in line with the representation election outcomes of the April 13, 2016 general elections in which the People’s Party, pursuing a centrist-inclination, rose to 2nd, following the then-ruling Saenuri Party.
Some experts said the probability of new centralist-inclined voters turning into a political force remains to be seen, however. The reason is that centrist-inclined voters tend to make their own judges on each issue without belonging to any political spectrums.
Moon, who was an outright front-runner until recently, has apparently been feeling the threat of the rising Ahn. The candidate has come up with a three-stage strategy to overcome a crisis. First of all, Moon called for interparty cohesion, saying he would not forgive “anyone who is throwing cold water on the blast furnace.” Moon said he would accelerate efforts to eliminate long-standing malpractices, which he said institutional reform, not “resorting to human ostracism.” He pledged to put the prosecution and the National Intelligence Service (NIS) on the right track. Moon plans to announce public policies related to life and tailored to meet regional needs and strengthen one-issue-a-day steps to overwhelm his rivals.
In their respective interview with the Chosun Ilbo on April 11, Moon and Ahn attached priority to national security, an attempt to win the hearts of conservative-inclined voters. Regarding the installation of the U.S. Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense System (THAAD) in Korea, Moon said the installation of the THAAD can be enforced if North Korea continues to conduct nuclear arms provocations.
The latest position is different from his previous stance of calling for the prolonging of the THAAD and parliamentary approval. Ahn also stressed that national security is the foremost issue, saying that unless national security is secured, the economy won’t matter. Ahn said he would persuade his party to withdraw its stance of objecting to the installation of the THAAD.
Moon said in the interview, “Under the current situation, I’m the sole candidate to administer state affairs right now.” Presidential hopeful Moon blasted candidate Ahn, saying he is “a proxy to prolong a regime.” Moon, on the ticket of the nation’s largest opposition party, lost to candidate Park Geun-hye of the Saenuri Party after failing to field a single opposition candidate with Ahn in the 2012 presidential election.
Ahn retorted in the interview, “I’m a capable candidate, and I’ll fight against a ‘politics of faction-centered splitting.’” Ahn, who broke from Moon’s opposition party, is now taking up the gauntlet against Moon once again. Ahn rebuked Moon, saying that criticizing his supporters, is a kind of malpractice to be eliminated. Ahn stressed communication and collaboration, indicating a possible grand coalition.
The latest opinion polls showed that candidate Moon was outrunning Ahn by more than a margin of error to recapture his lead. The victor of the election will be determined according to how many new centrist-inclined or undecided voters each will get.