Moon, Ban lead presidential race, but uncertainties abound
Major Korean media outlets conduct New Year's public opinion surveys to find out what people think about major national and social issues.
For an election year like this, the surveys focus on the upcoming vote. The possibility of the presidential election taking place at an earlier-than-planned date gives additional significance to the latest public surveys.
What the surveys found were almost identical, indicating that they faithfully reflected the views of the public toward the presidential election, which could be held as early as in May or June, depending on the Constitutional Court's ruling on the parliamentary impeachment of President Park Geun-hye.
The most noticeable finding is that liberals are favored to win the presidency if the election is held now. This is not unexpected, in view of the Choi Soon-sil scandal that has driven many conservative voters away from Park and her ruling party.
Most of the surveys showed Moon Jae-in of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea in a clear lead over rivals like former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung and Ahn Cheol-soo, former leader of the minor opposition People's Party.
What is impressive -- from the standpoint of the Democratic Party -- is that even Lee, who placed third in most surveys, would be able to beat Ban, if he runs on the ticket of the Democratic Party.
This also means Lee, who had been considered a long shot before the Choi scandal broke out, may continue to gain strength and pose a serious challenge to Moon in the party's nomination race.
In short, the Choi scandal and the 10 weekend candlelight vigils held across the country gave the liberal camp an upper hand over the conservatives. But as with every election, it is too early to predict that this trend will continue until voting day. The same surveys also found that up to 30 percent of voters did not support anyone.
Many hopefuls, including Ban, have yet to officially declare their candidacies.
There are many more factors to be considered in the coming months, including the Constitutional Court ruling on Park's impeachment and the proposal to revise the Constitution. Talks of political realignment involving major parties and candidates are also flourishing.
Nevertheless, Moon and his Democratic Party, relishing their unearned fortune, seem to believe that their victory is a fait accompli.
Moon's comment that he was ready to form a shadow Cabinet is one good case in point.
Moon may well be reminded that in 2002, Lee Hoi-chang and his campaigners had believed they were as close to an election win as Moon believes he is now. But Lee eventually lost his second bid for presidency to Roh Moo-hyun, who was Moon’s boss.
It is ironic that Moon, who was one of the key campaigners for Roh, an underdog at that time, is now making his second bid -- like Lee did in 2002 -- for the Blue House as a favorite, not an underdog like his former boss. What Moon does from now on will determine whether he will follow in the footsteps of Lee or Roh.
Ban's future is also uncertain. He has yet to decide whether he will create his own party or join an existing party. There is also the possibility that he could prompt a wider political realignment, seeking alliances with more than one political group or candidate.
But in all regards, the next presidential election is highly likely to shape up as a duel between Moon and Ban in the early stage of the campaign. However, what is more certain is that their approval ratings will not remain the same.
The same surveys that showed Moon and Ban taking first and second places found that Koreans want to see in the next president "democratic communication" with the people.
They should convince the people they are the ones who can meet those expectations.
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