South Korea’s presidential campaign formally launched on November 26 with seven registered candidates. The main candidates today are ruling Saenuri party representative Park Geun-hye and progressive opposition Democratic Unity Party (DUP) representative Moon Jae-in. The election is likely to turn on the following factors: a unified support base, demography, and turnout. Here are some factors to watch as South Korea’s campaign reaches its climax with a national vote to be held on Wednesday.
Unifying the base: Since South Korea has been roughly evenly divided between conservatives and progressives in recent elections, a prerequisite for campaign success is a unified constituency behind a single candidate. Past South Korean elections have clearly taught both sides that a divided base or third party candidacy will tip the balance in South Korea’s closely divided electorate. This year, conservatives united early while progressives have waited until the last minute to back a unified candidate.
Following two months of suspense over who would be the main progressive opponent to center-right candidate Park (selected last August amidst token opposition), IT entrepreneur, scholar, and independent candidate Ahn Chulsoo finally conceded to DUP candidate Moon Jae-in, a lawyer who served as former President Roh Moo-hyun’s chief of staff, in late November. Ahn’s concession made Moon the major candidate opposing Park, who has quietly moved to unite conservative support for her candidacy.
This tumultuous prelude to the campaign highlights a major issue facing progressives: whether or not they can heal, unite, and mobilize behind Moon’s candidacy in the space of only three weeks. For this reason, Moon needs Ahn Chulsoo supporters if he is to have a chance of beating Park. Initial polls following Ahn’s abrupt November 24 withdrawal from the race found that only fifty-five percent of Ahn’s supporters said that they would definitely support Moon, but since Ahn rejoined the campaign trail in active support of Moon in early December, the race has been getting tighter. If Moon wins, he will owe a debt to Ahn.