Opposition presidential hopefuls clash in first public debate

Vivian Kang, March 3, 2017, 9:29 a.m.

SEOUL, March 3 (Yonhap) -- Four potential presidential candidates in South Korea's main opposition party trumpeted their winning strategies in their first public debate on Friday. 

The liberal Democratic Party is as hopeful as ever as all polls indicated high odds of its victory in the upcoming presidential election, which may be held in the first half if President Park Geun-hye's impeachment is confirmed this month.

During the debate hosted by the radio broadcaster CBS, front-runner Moon Jae-in emphasized his sure-fire prospect to win the election and preparedness as the national leader.

"We are on a absolutely critical mission of the change of government," Moon said. "We need a candidate who can surely win even if the conservative bloc unites and attacks."

Moon, who lost the 2012 election to Park, has led his rivals by wide margins in all recent opinion polls.

Moon described himself as the "best prepared candidate" at a time when a new president would have to take over without a transition period.

His closest rival, South Chungcheong Gov. An Hee-jung, boasted of his wider voter appeal in terms of ideology and region.

He is seen as popular among centrist voters fed up with the liberal party's mainstream loyalty to Moon, and among the central Chungcheong region which has held a critical vote in the nation's presidential elections fraught with regional divide.

An said the party has been depending too much on the progressive-leaning Jeolla provinces, claiming he will be able to win votes across the country.

The debate also featured Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung, whose sudden ascent has recently slowed, and Goyang Mayor Choi Sung, who is struggling to rise from the fringe territory.

Lee highlighted his image as a fighter against the establishment saying he is the best qualified figure to curb the privileged few and root out corruption. Choi also said he will focus on eradicating corruptive ties between political power and large businesses.

A poll conducted this week by Gallup Korea put Moon's approval rating at 34 percent, up 2 percentage points on-week. An came in second with 15 percent, down 6 points. Lee scored 8 percent, while Choi was not included in the survey.

President Park was impeached on Dec. 9 over a corruption scandal involving her and her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil. If her impeachment is upheld by the Constitutional Court, the country will have to pick a new leader within 60 days.

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