The race for South Korea’s presidency gathered pace Sunday as the main opposition party picked a former top presidential aide as its candidate for the December polls, amid speculation that a popular software mogul may derail his bid.
The left-wing Democratic United Party chose Moon Jae-In, former senior aide to the late ex-president Roh Moo-Hyun, after he won a combined 56 percent of some 600,000 votes in 13 primaries that have been held across the country.
“Thank you for rallying behind me for this enormous challenge of administrative change… I promise that I will win the December race,” Moon said in a speech, to thunderous applause from the crowd at a stadium in Seoul.
“We are faced with endless corruption cases involving the president’s aides, with democracy and human rights in retreat…now is time to put things right back,” he told thousands of supporters who chanted his name.
A former pro-democracy activist and presidential chief of staff, Moon has vowed to push for a summit with North Korea if he becomes South Korea’s next president in the December 19 vote.
Moon on Sunday also vowed to expand welfare spending and to overhaul the economy dominated by a few conglomerates that had overgrown under the state-directed growth in the past but are criticised for their omnipresence.
“I will reform policies on chaebol (conglomerates). I will never tolerate the privileges they enjoy, or their abuse of power,” he said.
A human rights lawyer who was jailed in the 1970s for protesting against military rule, Moon, 59, has impeccable liberal credentials that helped him unify disparate opposition groups into the DUP last year.
Moon is expected to compete against the conservative ruling party’s confirmed candidate – Park Geun-Hye, daughter of the late military strongman Park Chung-Hee.
With President Lee Myung-Bak constitutionally barred from a second term after serving five years, Park wrapped up the nomination of the New Frontier Party last month.
But it remains uncertain whether Moon will eventually be able to join the presidential race, as the high-profile software mogul Ahn Cheol-Soo is set to announce whether or not he will make his own bid.
A political novice with no official party affiliation, Ahn enjoys massive popularity among young liberal voters, and polls show that he has nearly twice the support for a presidential bid as Moon.
The DUP had repeatedly urged Ahn to join the party as a presidential candidate, amid speculation that whoever wins the DUP nomination may have to negotiate with Ahn over which one will race against the conservative bulwark Park.
So far Ahn has demurred, and his close aides reportedly said he would announce his decision sometime this week after the DUP’s nomination process ends.
Both Ahn and Moon should individually consolidate as much support as possible and “at some time negotiate over which one of the two will run”, Cho Kuk, a political analyst, told reporters.