Tags: S.Korean | Presidential | Campaign | Opens

S.Korean Presidential Campaign Opens

Thursday, 28 November 2002 12:00 AM

The country's 35 million voters on Dec. 19 will choose a successor to President Kim Dae-jung, who is limited by the Constitution to a single five-year term and will step down in February.

The race is widely considered to be one of the closest presidential elections in the South Korean history. It is the first time in 31 years that the nation has two close contenders in a presidential election.

Left-wing labor activist Kwon Young-ghil, former spy agency chief Chang Se-dong, former prime minister Lee Han-dong and Socialist Party chief Kim Young-gyu joined the contest, but they are underdogs with their combined popularity drawing under 5 percent in recent opinion polls.

Roh, a former human-rights lawyer, emerged earlier this week as the single candidate for the country's reformist camp, defeating millionaire soccer chief Chung Mong-joon in a special primary contest.

The merger gave Roh an immediate bounce in support, putting him ahead of the longtime front-runner Lee from the conservative Grand National Party that controls the Parliament. Lee, 66, a former Supreme Court justice and prime minister, lost in the 1997 elections by a narrow margin against Kim Dae-jung.

The most immediate issue confronting the two main candidates is how to deal with communist rival North Korea.

Roh, standard-bearer of the ruling Millennium Democratic Party founded by President Kim, vows to continue Kim's policy of engagement with North Korea. The president's efforts in this arena helped gain him the Nobel Peace Prize.

Roh, a 56-year-old liberal candidate, has also indicated a negative attitude toward South Korea's long tradition of a pro-U.S. policy. He has pledged to seek reconciliation with North Korea despite a standoff with the United States.

But Lee says Kim's "appeasement" policy failed to bring about reciprocal peace gestures from North Korea. If elected, Lee says, he will suspend cash aid to the North unless it gives up a nuclear weapons program.

Lee also declared his campaign a fight against corruption and radical extremists. "It's a contest between the group trying to prolong a corrupt regime and the group determined to pass a stern judgment on a corrupt regime," Lee said.

Lee said voters will "hand down a stern judgment to the five-year rule by the corrupt government." President Kim and his ruling camp have been plagued by a series of scandals involving his sons and close aides.

Roh vowed to put an end to politics marred by "imperial leadership, privilege and regional division."

"I will usher in an era of integration in which all regions and classes reconcile and unite," he said.

A self-made man born to peasant farmers, Roh is pro-labor and campaigns for the underprivileged. Roh, who was jailed in 1987 on charges of abetting striking workers, has promised to prevent South Korea's family-controlled conglomerates, known as chaebols, from lapsing into the habit of unsustainable expansion.

Lee, who is pro-business, favors market-oriented policies and calls for a closer relationship with the United States.

The National Election Commission expected about 89 percent of the eligible voters to cast ballots, citing a voter survey. Analysts say the upcoming election characterized by policy debate is in contrast with past elections, influenced mainly by deep-seated regional rivalry, with many voting along regional lines.

"The election is crucial to opening an era of new politics and help steer the country toward the open democracy," said Park Sang-ki, a Yonsei University professor.

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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The country's 35 million voters on Dec. 19 will choose a successor to President Kim Dae-jung, who is limited by the Constitution to a single five-year term and will step down in February. The race is widely considered to be one of the closest presidential elections in...
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2002-00-28
Thursday, 28 November 2002 12:00 AM
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