Mourning brings candidates together
People Power Party (PPP) candidate Yoon was the first to visit the mourning altar for Ahn's campaign worker, who died of suspected carbon monoxide poisoning on a campaign bus, at a hospital in Cheonan, South Chungcheong.
The campaign worker and the bus's driver were found unconscious Tuesday. Both were pronounced dead later in the day. While the campaign worker's family set up a mourning altar in Cheonan, the relatives of the driver planned a funeral in their hometown of Gimhae, South Gyeongsang. Ahn's aides said he will visit them later Thursday.
Yoon arrived at the Cheonan hospital around 8:30 p.m. Wednesday and paid respects at the mourning altar for the campaign worker. Ahn and Yoon sat together and talked for about 25 minutes, their aides said.
"I had personal talks with Ahn, a competitor in the presidential election, because he faced an unfortunate incident," Yoon told reporters after his visit. "Although I may not be any help to him, I offered my heartfelt words to comfort him."
Yoon dismissed the idea that he and Ahn, candidate of the Peoples' Party (PP), talked about an election alliance. "We didn't talk about the thing that you are guessing because this is a funeral."
Last Sunday, Ahn proposed that the two join forces, with a public opinion survey deciding which should be the opposition's sole presidential candidate. The other would then drop out of the race and declare his support. Yoon was lukewarm to that idea, saying he was more interested in striking a political deal directly with Ahn.
In the latest survey jointly conducted by four polling companies including Hankook Research, Yoon was the clear frontrunner. He scored 40 percent while Lee of the ruling Democratic Party (DP) scored 31 percent. The poll was conducted from Monday till Wednesday and released Thursday.
In last week's poll, the two were tied at 35 percent. Over a week, Yoon gained 5 percentage points and Lee lost 4.
Ahn scored 8 percent in the latest poll, down 1 percentage point in a week. Sim Sang-jeung of the Justice Part scored 2 percent, dropping by 2 percentage points. Another 18 percent of respondents said they didn't support a candidate or did not answer.
The poll showed that the voters who identify themselves as centrists leaned toward Yoon, who represents the conservative opposition party. Last week, 38 percent of the centrist voters said they supported Lee while 30 percent said they supported Yoon. This week, only 28 percent said they supported Lee and 37 percent said they supported Yoon.
More details on the survey are available on the homepage of the National Election Survey Deliberation Commission.
While Yoon's plan to visit Ahn was announced in advance, Lee, candidate for the ruling DP, made a surprise visit. He arrived at the hospital around 9:27 p.m., less than 30 minutes after Yoon's departure.
Lee had a 20-minute talk with Ahn after paying respects at the mourning altar.
Officials of the PP said they were surprised at Lee's unannounced visit. Lee's campaign officials also said they were not aware of the candidate's plan.
"Lee just went there without letting us known," said a Lee campaign worker. "We didn't know what he was going to talk about with Ahn."
A senior PP official told the JoongAng Ilbo that Lee and Ahn did not talk about politics.
After Lee's departure, Ahn also left the hospital. "They both gave me kind words of condolence," Ahn said. "I am grateful that they visited me during their busy campaign schedules. My party will do its best to take care of this situation [concerning the deaths]."
Ahn stopped his campaign for two days and came to the mourning altar on Thursday to be with the victim's family.
The National Forensic Service conducted autopsies on the two victims and announced Thursday an initial conclusion that they died of carbon monoxide poisoning. A generator to broadcast campaign advertisements was inside the campaign bus and police suspect that carbon monoxide produced by the generator poisoned the victims.
In a separate but related incident, a driver of another chartered bus for Ahn's campaign was also found unconscious in Gangwon and moved to a hospital. He gained consciousness on Wednesday.
BY SER MYO-JA [firstname.lastname@example.org]