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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on July 8)

All News 09:03 July 08, 2017

Doubts on 2 candidates
: Moon, Ahn should have 1-on-1 debate

With less than one month to go before the presidential election, two strong candidates are waging a close battle.

Moon Jae-in of the liberal Democratic Party of Korea had been leading most opinion polls by a large margin. But with parties finalizing their nominations, support for Ahn Cheol-soo of the minor People's Party has soared, turning the race into a two-way battle. More recently, Ahn knocked Moon off the top spot in some polls even in a five-way race involving conservative and leftist runners as well as in a hypothetical two-way competition.

What is unfolding in this year's early election polls is a far cry from that in past when conservative parties swept the southeastern Gyeongsang provinces whereas liberal ones dominated the rival Jeolla provinces. The two frontrunners are neck and neck in Seoul and its surrounding metropolitan area, plus Busan and the Jeolla and Chungcheong provinces.

This phenomenon is the natural result of waning support for conservative contenders following the imprisonment of former President Park Geun-hye. At a time when one of the two strong candidates is likely to be president, the most important thing is for the people to determine who is best suited to lead the nation.

We cannot overemphasize the importance of the upcoming election. Voters should make a difficult choice within the shortest amount of time ever. The crisis facing us at home and abroad is profound -- North Korea's missile and nuclear threats, conflict with China over the deployment of a U.S. missile defense system, continuing economic woes and political unrest.

One has to wonder if Moon and Ahn are equipped with the leadership and qualifications needed to head off these challenges, as the people's doubts on them appear to linger.

Moon's biggest task is to cope with the rampant antagonism against him. At a recent poll conducted at the request of the Hankook Ilbo, more than three out of 10 respondents (32.1 percent) found Moon, who served as a key aide to the late liberal President Roh Moo-hyun, disagreeable. By contrast, Ahn, the software mogul-turned-politician is failing to win voters' confidence in his ability to run state affairs. Many seem to feel uneasy about his party having only 40 parliamentary seats.

In the run up to Park's impeachment, Koreans have felt how dangerous it is to choose a leader solely based on image and prejudice. That's why we must filter out unqualified candidates thoroughly.

So television debates for this year's election need to be completely different. Candidates should engage in debate purely with their thoughts and knowledge without scripts. This is badly needed to grasp how well they understand policy.

It is also imperative for Moon and Ahn to have a one-on-one "limitless" debate so voters can judge in detail who is more capable.

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