Moon, Ahn Revive Opposition Merger Before Korean Election

So. Korean Presidential Candidates Moon Jae-In and Ahn Cheol-Soo
Moon Jae-In, left of the Democratic United Party and independent hopeful Ahn Cheol-Soo, South Korean presidential candidates. Photographer: Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images

South Korean opposition lawmaker Moon Jae In and independent Ahn Cheol Soo decided to resume talks on fielding a single candidate in next month’s presidential election after the head of Moon’s party resigned to try to end a four-day stalemate.

The two candidates yesterday decided after a 30-minute meeting in Seoul to resume working-level talks on merger terms today. Lee Hae Chan, the leader of Moon’s Democratic United Party, yesterday resigned, saying he hoped the move would convince Ahn and the people that the party is willing to make sacrifices to reform politics.

Both candidates are struggling to overtake ruling New Frontier Party nominee Park Geun Hye in polls ahead of the Dec. 19 election to decide who succeeds President Lee Myung Bak as head of Asia’s fourth-biggest economy. Moon’s willingness to sacrifice an ally to persuade Ahn may bolster his chances to emerge as the standard bearer, analyst Jeong Han Wool said.

“Moon and his party made a pretty big gesture yesterday, and this played to Moon’s advantage,” said Jeong, deputy director of the Center for Public Opinion Research at East Asia Institute in Seoul. “They are cutting it close, with less than a month left, but it looks like Park Geun Hye will face what she dreads, a two-way race.”

Poll Watching

The breakthrough ended a hiatus that began with Ahn suspending negotiations on Nov. 15 to protest the spreading of false information about his election strategy, calling it “classic example of old politics.” Moon today said that opinion polls will help determine who becomes the unified nominee before the Nov. 26 deadline for candidacy registration with the National Election Commission.

“I cannot on my own concede the candidacy, as I have been nominated and backed by my party to represent them,” Moon said today. “The only way for me to drop out is my ratings fall to a point where it is objectively deemed difficult for me to carry on.”

Moon overtook Ahn for second place in a three-way race against Park with a rating of 28.3 percent to Ahn’s 21.5 percent, according to a poll released yesterday by Seoul-based Realmeter and JTBC, a cable-television affiliate of newspaper JoongAng Ilbo. A previous survey reported Nov. 17 had Moon at 25.4 percent and Ahn at 25.5 percent.

Single Candidate

Park still leads with 44.7 percent, according to yesterday’s poll, which surveyed 1,500 respondents Nov. 17-18 and had a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points. It showed 44.6 percent of respondents favoring Moon over 36.1 percent backing Ahn as the single united opposition candidate.

Park, 60, is the eldest daughter of late dictator Park Chung Hee and served as his first lady after her mother was killed in a 1974 assassination attempt by North Korea on her father. She said Nov. 5 that she’ll seek to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to improve relations should she win.

Ahn, 50, is the founder of Ahnlab Inc., South Korea’s biggest antivirus software maker. The one-time medical doctor and Wharton MBA holder declared his candidacy in September having never run for office.

Ahn said today in a speech in Seoul that North Korea developing nuclear weapons is “not acceptable,” as he pledged to boost South Korea’s relations with China, Russia, India and Southeast Asian nations.

Moon, 59, is a former human-rights lawyer who was jailed in 1975 for leading street protests against the government of Park’s father. He later served as chief of staff to President Roh Moo Hyun, who held office from 2003 to 2008.

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