"Shadow of Roh" neck and neck with dictator's daughter before South Korea polls

Sun Nov 25, 2012 4:25pm EST
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By Ju-min Park and David Chance

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea's December presidential election looks set to turn into a referendum on two of the country's most polarizing leaders as the daughter of military dictator Park Chung-hee faces off against a former aide to ex-President Roh Moo-hyun.

Park's authoritarian rule propelled South Korea from poverty to the cusp of developed-nation status and ended when he was assassinated in 1979. The left-wing Roh's single five-year term closed in chaos as economic reforms failed and a policy of engagement with North Korea was wrecked as Pyongyang pushed ahead with a nuclear weapons program.

Roh committed suicide in 2010 after bribery charges dogged his retirement.

The conservative candidate, Park Geun-hye, 60, who is bidding to become South Korea's first woman president, and left-winger Moon Jae-in, 59, formally registered their candidacies on Sunday after independent Ahn Cheol-soo dropped out to support Moon.

"It is going to be a negative election campaign," said Kim Jun-seok, a political science professor at Dongguk University in Seoul. "People will split between the 'pro-growth' generation that supports Park Chung-hee and the 'pro-distribution' generation that supports Roh Moo-hyun."

Initial polls showed Moon had a slight edge over Park as Ahn's supporters rallied behind a candidate who has pledged engagement with North Korea, to renegotiate a free trade agreement with the United States, to increase taxes on the wealthy and tackle the power of big business.

A survey from pollster Realmeter published on Saturday put Moon, who says his favorite political moniker is "Shadow of Roh", on 48.1 percent versus Park's 46.2 percent. Broadcaster MBC gave Moon 41.2 percent to Park's 39.2 percent.

The lead was within the margin of error and success for Moon will likely hinge on whether he and his Democrat United Party, which failed to oust the ruling conservatives in parliamentary polls in April, can win the support of Ahn supporters who wanted a break with South Korea's established political parties.   Continued...

Park Geun-hye, South Korea's ruling Saenuri Party's presidential candidate, listens to a reporter's question during a news conference at the Seoul Foreign Correspondents' Club in Seoul November 8, 2012. The source of the red circle comes from a video camera's LED light. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji