[OUTLOOK]A 3d candidate? It's intriguing

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[OUTLOOK]A 3d candidate? It's intriguing

Various opinion polls indicate that Roh Moo-hyun, the Millennium Democratic Party's presidential nominee, and his rival, Lee Hoi-chang of the Grand National Party, are the front-runners in the December presidential race, both showing support of about 40 percent. Coincidentally, the first name of Mr. Roh's daughter is Jeong-yeon, the same as that of Mr. Lee's eldest son. Unless there is a dramatic turn of events, it is highly likely that "Jeong-yeon's father" will become Korea's next president.

Still, there is a chance, albeit slim, that it will not happen. And such a possibility is creating a very unpredictable situation in the nation's politics.

The starting point of a new political scenario is the gubernatorial and mayoral elections on June 13. Under the scenario, a humiliating defeat suffered by the Millennium Democratic Party will jump-start attempts to rearrange the political arena. A newly-created third force comes up with a new candidate. And the new candidate defeats both Mr. Roh and Mr. Lee, according to the scenario.

The MDP nominee has shackled himself by announcing repeatedly that he would put his candidacy through a vote of confidence, should the party lose the June 13 elections in South Gyeongsang province, Ulsan and Busan, his hometown but the stronghold of the GNP. The outlook is not so bright for the MDP. If the MDP loses even in Seoul and Gyeonggi province, things would turn irreversibly against him. Still, there is little chance that Mr. Roh would lose his candidacy. "No matter whether we hold a confidence vote or not, he will remain as our presidential nominee," Chun Jung-bae, Mr. Roh's aide for political affairs, said so positively. Mr. Chun believes that seeking a confidence vote over whether Mr. Roh should stay as the MDP's presidential candidate would only boost his sagging popularity by prompting anti-Lee Hoi-chang groups to rally around Mr. Roh.

If Mr. Chun is right, the December presidential race will remain a two-way competition between Mr. Roh and Mr. Lee. But a scenario spreading secretly among key figures in the ruling camp envisions a three-way battle among the two and a new candidate, or so it seems. Mr. Lee's election camp is also busy mapping out a strategy in preparation for a possible candidate change in the ruling camp. The GNP is weighing the possibility that a third candidate might eat into Mr. Lee's votes and consequently help Mr. Roh.

Anyway, key figures in the ruling camp continue to hint at a new candidate. The MDP's old mainstreamers assert that the party's nomination is "not final." A key figure in the faction said, "Six months is a long time."

Their scenario has it that the ruling camp comes up with a new candidate whether Mr. Roh protests it or not. According to the scheme, the "new" contender must be from the North or South Gyeongsang provinces. Park Geun-hye, head of the Korean Coalition for The Future, and Chung Mong-joon, a maverick lawmaker, are frequently cited. Joining hands with them are Kim Jong-pil, head of the United Liberal Democrats, and Lee In-je, whose bid for the MDP nomination was thwarted by Mr. Roh. Such a combination, the key ruling-camp figures believe, will be strong enough to subdue the growing anti-Roh Moo-hyun sentiment.

Meanwhile, Park Jie-won, the Blue House chief of staff and the No. 2 man in the current regime, insists that he is no longer involved in politics. But the ruling camp's working-level group officials say, "You can't hang on to something that has no chance." Another key ruling-camp figure noted that the MDP is refraining from revealing some 20 pieces of information that can be used against Mr. Lee because of such a scenario. He meant that the party is waiting for a "crucial" moment to use them.

It is still unclear whether the purpose of a third candidate will be to contain Mr. Lee or to "pinch-hit" for Mr. Roh. But it is obvious why MDP officials go to great lengths in talking about replacing the party's presidential nominee who has been elected through a nationwide primary. The ruling camp is obsessed with winning the December race at any cost, no matter what happens.

A whole new political scene will unfold after the June 13 regional elections are over. It is unclear whether the MDP will really change its candidate, but an upheaval is well expected. For Korean politics is infested with conspiracies, uncertainties and anomalies.


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The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Hyun-il

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