DP primary looks like a race between Moon, An

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DP primary looks like a race between Moon, An

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South Chungcheong Governor An Hee-jung, left, takes a selfie with college students in Hongseong County, South Chungcheong, after having a conversation about part-time jobs on Monday. Moon Jae-in, right, former chairman of the Democratic Party and frontrunner in the presidential race, gives a pep talk to students who prepare for civil service exams in a cram school in Noryangjin, southwestern Seoul, on Monday. [YONHAP]

With South Chungcheong Governor An Hee-jung coming in second place in a poll on this year’s presidential race, the primary for the opposition Democratic Party is increasingly shaping into a two-way race between An and frontrunner Moon Jae-in.

While the 51-year-old governor ranked second with 14.1 percent of approval, Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung could not stop the fall his approval sustained over the past few weeks, which has now gone down to 8.2 percent in the latest poll.

In a survey by pollster Research Plus, Moon led with 30.2 percent of support, trailed by An and acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn, who garnered 12.5 percent of support, most of which is thought to have come from conservative voters rallying behind him in an effort to continue the conservatives’ grip on power for the third consecutive term.

Seongnam Mayor Lee, whose approval at one point rose to the mid-10 percent level, appeared to lose his momentum as his approval is steadily declining from 12 percent in the previous poll to the current 8.2 percent.

An has moved to expand his support base beyond the traditional liberal base to those in the center to right and, as if to show his strategy worked well, his 14.1 percent support is a 10.8 percent increase from what he posted in the same poll just a month ago. The latest poll was conducted of 1,011 adults nationwide on Friday and Saturday.

An shares common ground with Moon in that they were both long-standing confidants of late President Roh Moo-hyun and that their political identity is largely defined by their relationship with Roh, the liberal icon.

Since his bid declaration he has been seeking to expand his appeal to uncommitted constituents and those in the center to right in the ideological spectrum. On the contentious issue of the deployment of the U.S.-made anti-missile defense system, An objected to scrapping it, citing the diplomatic nature of the agreement with Washington.

Moon, on the other hand, says the decision should be handled by the incoming administration, while refusing to specify his own position, which has drawn sharp criticism from conservatives.

In another maneuver to broaden his support base, An proclaimed he would forge a coalition government with conservative Saenuri and Bareun parties, a promise denounced by Moon.

The former human rights lawyer countered An’s proposal by saying he would not forge a coalition with those responsible for the unprecedented abuse of power scandal that led to President Park’s impeachment.

One major variable that would affect the DP primary is whether Moon would clinch a majority of votes from party members and the general public in the first round of votes to avoid a run-off contest with An. Under the run-off voting system, the two finalists of the primary race compete in a final round to clinch the nomination if neither wins a majority in the initial contest.

Another thing to watch for is how many non-DP members partake in the DP primary, as the party decided to allow non-party members to cast primary votes to select its standard-bearer. The DP expects that at least one million non-party members will take part on top of its 21,500 party members and super delegates.

“Even if 2 million people take part in the primary, a majority of them will be DP supporters,” an aide to Moon was quoted as saying by the JoongAng Ilbo. “An’s approach to attract conservative voters could be a double-edged sword.”

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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