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(News Focus) Potential presidential hopefuls hot on campaign trail as parliamentary election nears

All Headlines 17:53 April 05, 2016

By Kim Han-joo

SEOUL, April 5 (Yonhap) -- Three potential presidential hopefuls are hitting this year's parliamentary campaign trail with considerable vigor as the performance of their parties in the upcoming general elections will be a crucial test for their larger political ambitions down the line.

The April 13 polls are to elect 300 lawmakers for a four-year term, and take on greater significance as it gauges overall voter sentiment ahead of the presidential elections slated for December 2017.

South Koreans will go to the polls then to elect a new president to succeed Park Geun-hye, whose single five-year term ends in early 2018. By law, she cannot seek re-election.

The three hopefuls are Kim Moo-sung, head of the ruling Saenuri Party, Moon Jae-in, former leader of the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea, and Ahn Cheol-soo, who left the Minjoo Party to create the splinter People's Party.

A poll released on Monday showed 20.7 percent of people supported Moon in a potential presidential race, followed by Kim who received 12.9 percent of support. Ahn is trailing behind with only 10 percent of support in the poll.

Kim, who is seeking his sixth parliamentary term in the southern port city of Busan, has so far shied away from making public remarks about his presidential ambitions.

Political analysts forecast that Kim will mostly likely win his parliamentary seat but he still has a lot to prove to party members due to the recent feud between various factions.

Kim, who once led the faction loyal to President Park, now represents the so-called non-mainstream faction. His status has taken a beating due to the high profile infighting over nomination of candidates for the parliamentary race.

Kim has since made efforts to rebuild his standing within the ruling party and has been at the forefront of its election campaign, showing his support for candidates across the country.

Political experts and pundits say that a good showing for the party would be a boon for his presidential chances, but poor results could raise calls within the party to hold him accountable.

He also faces some opposition from Oh Se-hoon of the Saenuri Party, a former Seoul mayor and a front runner in Jongno Ward in central Seoul.

Oh is set to face off against Chung Sye-kyun of the Minjoo Party, who currently represents Jongno Ward in the National Assembly.

The Monday poll puts Oh's approval rating at 15.4 percent in the potential presidential race, up 1.6 percentage point from a week earlier, beating Kim for the first time.

Moon's election victory would also solidify his image as a competent presidential candidate.

Ever since stepping down from the chairman post after the party was embroiled in a high-profile internal feud, Moo has stayed low key.

The strife led to the departure of some two dozen lawmakers, including Ahn.

Moon gave up all his party positions during the nomination process and endowed full authority to the current interim chairman Kim Chong-in.

Moon continues to refrain from commenting on his possible presidential bid, saying that he will focus all his energy on securing a wins against the Saenuri Party in next week's elections.

The lawmaker, while popular in some circles faces considerable opposition in some regions, in particular the Jeolla areas that have traditionally been the bastion of support for liberals.

Ahn, who has many supporters in the 20-40 age brackets, has also refused to comment on presidential elections, apparently focusing on forming a parliamentary negotiation body by securing more than 20 sitting lawmakers.

Not only does he have to meet his promise of grabbing 40 seats but also faces a tough battle in his own electoral district of Nowon in northern Seoul.

He will be competing against relatively new political rookie, Lee Jun-seok, a 31-year-old entrepreneur from the Saenuri Party.

khj@yna.co.kr
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