Presidential campaign officially kicks off
Lee Jae-myung, presidential candidate for the ruling Democratic Party (DP), and Yoon Suk-yeol, his rival from the main opposition People Power Party (PPP), are in a neck-and-neck race, while Ahn Cheol-soo of the People's Party and Sim Sang-jeung of the Justice Party are trailing.
Lee traveled from Seoul to Busan and Yoon from Busan to Seoul, both holding events along the way.
Lee met with maritime traffic control workers at the port of Busan early Tuesday morning, highlighting his campaign pledge to restore Korea's economy at all costs.
"If it is a good policy, I will use it, whether it was from [the PPP's 2017 presidential candidate] Hong Joon-pyo, or from [the late military strongman] Park Chung Hee," said Lee, a former Gyeonggi governor known for his fierce criticism of conservatives like Hong and Park. "We need to use all the abilities of this country."
Lee scheduled more events in Daegu, Daejeon and Seoul later in the day to meet with voters.
Yoon started Tuesday with a more traditional campaign event by visiting the National Cemetery. Later in the day, he held a major rally at Cheonggye Plaza in central Seoul.
"I promise to restore the destroyed livelihoods of the people," Yoon said. "With strong national security, I will protect the country."
Calling himself a political freshman, Yoon said he has no political debts, unlike candidates with longer experience. "I only need to repay the public, which invited me [into politics] and supported me," Yoon said. "I can push forward bold reforms against the establishment."
Yoon's destinations for later in the day were Daejeon, Daegu and finally Busan.
Ahn visited the birthplace of the late President Park and praised his accomplishments. "Park succeeded in national unity, industrialization and advancement of science and technology," Ahn said. "He created the Miracle on the Han River during the industrialization period, and I will create a second miracle with the fourth industrial revolution."
Justice Party's Sim started her campaign in Jeonju, North Jeolla. She also planned to visit Gwangju and a memorial for workers killed when an apartment building under construction collapsed last month.
The DP and PPP also unveiled TV commercials on Tuesday and placed large banners outside their headquarters buildings.
The DP's TV commercial was entitled "Lee's Letter to Voters who Loathe Him." Instead of promoting his strengths, the commercial highlighted Lee's supposed weaknesses, such as his unpolished character and complicated family dramas. "I am sorry [for my shortcomings], but please rethink about me," Lee said in the narration.
"We had many debates internally," said Lee Won-il, a senior campaign official. "But we wanted to make an extraordinary and honest approach to persuade voters," he said. "We hoped it could be the first step to reinventing Lee as a candidate."
Posters hung on the facade of the party's headquarters and some other buildings in Yeouido stressed that Lee is a "capable economic president."
Yoon's commercial featured the slogan, "A President Brought up by the People." In the commercial, Yoon appeared with a child to stress his friendly image. He said he was able to fight the highhandedness of the Moon administration and the political establishment because of the public's support. A poster on a similar theme was hung outside the party headquarters.
In three opinion polls released Tuesday, Yoon was leading the race. According to a Mediatomato poll conducted Saturday and Sunday, Yoon scored 43.2 percent, while Lee scored 40.2 percent. Another poll by Korea Information Research conducted Saturday showed that Yoon scored 44.3 percent and Lee 39.4 percent.
A third poll by Gongjung polling company showed that Yoon scored 46.6 percent and Lee 38.2 percent. The poll was conducted Friday and Saturday. More details of the polls are available on the National Election Survey Deliberation Commission homepage.
No progress was seen Tuesday in the negotiation between Yoon and Ahn to come to an electoral alliance to consolidate conservative vote. Ahn proposed on Sunday that a public opinion survey should decide which of them should be the opposition's sole candidate. Yoon remained lukewarm to the idea.
Political insiders said talks between Ahn and Yoon campaigns will likely continue until the National Election Commission prints ballots on Feb. 28.
The upcoming election is the first presidential election since the 2020 revision of the election law, which lowered the voting age to 18. According to the Ministry of Interior and Safety, there were more than 44.185 million eligible voters as of Sunday.
The ministry said it created the voter registry draft last week, and the public will be allowed to review the list from Monday through Wednesday. Any challenges to the voter registry can be made by Wednesday and the list will be finalized on Feb. 25.
Most voters will cast ballots at polling stations around the country from 6 a.m. till 6 p.m. on March 9. Covid-19 patients and self-quarantined people are allowed to visit polling stations and cast ballots from 6 till 7:30 p.m. on election day.
Ballot counting will begin immediately after voting ends on March 9.
According to the ministry, 102,837, including 35 Covid patients, applied for mail ballots. Another 3,532 registered for absentee ballots for seamen.
Early voting will be held from 6 a.m. till 6 p.m. on March 4 and 5.
Starting Tuesday through March 7, candidates are allowed to publish newspaper advertisements to promote their pledges, party's policies and other political fundraising plans. Each candidate is allowed to run up to 70 advertisements.
TV and radio commercials are allowed to be aired from Tuesday through March 8. Each candidate can air commercials up to 30 times per medium.
Stump speeches will be aired on TV and radio starting Tuesday through March 8.
During the official campaign period, candidates and campaign workers are allowed to host event from 7 a.m. till 10 p.m. until March 8. All voters except public servants and foreigners are allowed to participate in the activities.
Starting March 3, media and polling companies will be banned from announcing new survey results.
BY SER MYO-JA [firstname.lastname@example.org]