DP, PPP candidates schedule TV debate, but date is up in the air
The DP announced Tuesday morning that a 120-minute presidential debate between the DP's Lee Jae-myung and PPP's Yoon Suk-yeol was scheduled to take place at 10 p.m. on Jan. 27 and will be aired simultaneously by the three terrestrial broadcasters KBS, MBC and SBS.
Rep. Park Ju-min, the DP's head of broadcast debate content, said in a briefing that the party received a written response from the PPP earlier that day agreeing to its request for a televised debate between the two candidates last Thursday.
However, the PPP later said the DP's announcement was not exactly accurate, adding that the party had actually requested to hold the debate on Jan. 31 at a golden time slot ahead of Lunar New Year on Feb. 1, a major holiday and occasion for families to gather together.
PPP Rep. Sung Il-jong, the party's negotiator for TV debates, said in a briefing Tuesday afternoon, "An official letter was sent to the terrestrial broadcasters requesting cooperation on a debate between our party and the DP before Lunar New Year."
He said that the PPP had asked for an opinion on a date, and the broadcasters suggested Jan. 27, but noted that the DP seems to have released the date without confirmation.
The PPP also proposed the debate to be broadcasted at prime time between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m., noting "many people sleep after 10 p.m. so it's best to avoid this time slot."
Sung said he had a phone call with Park to inform him about the "confusion over the announcement," and they agreed to meet later that day.
Minor opposition People's Party presidential candidate Ahn Cheol-soo's spokesperson after news of the bipartisan debate between Lee and Yoon said it was a "riot against democracy to usurp people's right to know through the vested interests of the two major parties."
Accusing the DP and PPP of "political collusion," the People's Party called on a "free, multilateral debate" to allow voters the "opportunity to compare and verify the presidential candidate who will be responsible for the Republic of Korea for the next five years."
PPP's Sung said on Ahn's call to be included in the debate, "This debate is one the DP requested with the main opposition party. That's why we agreed."
He did leave open the possibility of future debates, however.
The three major terrestrial broadcasters have requested a four-way debate between Lee, Yoon, Ahn and the progressive minor Justice Party's Sim Sang-jeung after the Lunar New Year holiday in early February, said the DP. Lee has accepted the request, according to the DP, and asks the other three candidates to also participate.
Yoon, a political rookie and former prosecutor general, has until recently responded negatively to participating in a debate against Lee, known to be a voracious speaker as a human rights lawyer and a former Gyeonggi governor.
The two candidates have been leading a neck-and-neck race with some 50 days left until the presidential election, with Yoon's approval ratings rebounding slightly after internal feuding within the PPP led to the swift dismantling and revamping of his election campaign last week.
There are many variables that make the outcome of the presidential election on March 9 unclear, including a possible merger between candidates and risk factors related to family members and prosecution probes.
Ahn has seen a rise in his approval ratings, especially among the key demographic of young voters in their 20s and 30s, amid a dip in Yoon's popularity earlier this month due to chaos within the PPP and controversies surrounding his wife Kim Keon-hee's falsified job credentials and recordings of her phone calls with a liberal journalist.
In a survey conducted by pollster Embrain Public released Monday, Yoon was in the slight lead with an approval rating of 35.9 percent, trailed closely by Lee at 33.4 percent. They were followed by Ahn at 15.6 percent and Sim at 4 percent.
The survey was conducted on 1,006 adults nationwide over Saturday and Sunday.
Ahn, known previously for dropping out of races in favor of mergers with rivals, has maintained that he will run in this election. Likewise, the PPP has said it also is not considering an alliance with the People's Party, for now.
BY SARAH KIM [email@example.com]