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(News Focus) Race for S. Korea's next president to start early April in earnest

2017/03/23 09:38

SEOUL, March 23 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's political parties and leading politicians are gearing up for the upcoming presidential election, but even with less than two months left, the real race still has not begun, watchers and party officials said Thursday.

The competition will begin in earnest early next month when the parties will name their single candidates.

They were drawn into an early election mode after former President Park Geun-hye was removed from office by a March 10 Constitutional Court ruling that upheld a parliamentary impeachment of her over a series of corruption allegations.

The nation's Constitution requires an election to be held within 60 days of the removal of a president.

For nearly three decades, presidential elections have been held in December, about 60 days before the inauguration of an incoming president in February.

This year, the presidential election will be held May 9, with the five-year term of the next president starting the very next day.

The next presidential election, slated for 2022, will likely be held before March 9, at least 60 days before the new president's term will expire, according to the National Election Commission (NEC).

Presidential contenders of the former ruling Liberty Korea Party. From left, they are South Gyeongsang Gov. Hong Joon-pyo, Rep. Kim Jin-tae, former lawmaker Rhee In-je and North Gyeongsang Gov. Kim Kwan-yong. (Yonhap) Presidential contenders of the former ruling Liberty Korea Party. From left, they are South Gyeongsang Gov. Hong Joon-pyo, Rep. Kim Jin-tae, former lawmaker Rhee In-je and North Gyeongsang Gov. Kim Kwan-yong. (Yonhap)

The former ruling Liberty Korea Party was the first to begin the primary process. Its first round of party primary last week narrowed down the contenders to six out of nine.

A second round held Monday further reduced the number to four -- South Gyeongsang Province Gov. Hong Joon-pyo, North Gyeongsang Gov. Kim Kwan-yong, Rep. Kim Jin-tae and former six-term lawmaker Rhee In-je.

Hong currently leads the in-house race. The former ruling party is set to name its candidate at a party convention scheduled to be held in Seoul next Friday.

The conservative splinter Bareun Party is holding a two-person race to choose its nominee, with Rep. Yoo Seong-min enjoying a slight lead over Gyeonggi Province Gov. Nam Kyung-pil after two rounds of debates and regional surveys.

The party is set to name its presidential candidate at a ceremony to be held in Seoul on Tuesday. The Bareun Party was created earlier this year by lawmakers who defected from the former ruling party, and supported impeachment of the former president.

The four contenders in a primary election of the liberal Democratic Party. They are (from L) Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung, former party chief Moon Jae-in, South Chungcheong Gov. An Hee-jung and Goyang Gov. Choi Sung. (Yonhap) The four contenders in a primary election of the liberal Democratic Party. They are (from L) Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung, former party chief Moon Jae-in, South Chungcheong Gov. An Hee-jung and Goyang Gov. Choi Sung. (Yonhap)

The liberal Democratic Party is set to name its presidential candidate on April 3.

Currently, four contenders are seeking to run for president on the ticket of the country's largest party with 121 lawmakers in the 299-seat unicameral parliament.

They include former party chief Moon Jae-in, who many observers say maintains a very large and comfortable lead over all competitors.

In the latest opinion poll conducted by local pollster Realmeter, Moon received a 36.6 percent approval rating, followed by South Chungcheong Gov. An Hee-jung of the same party with 15.6 percent.

The party's contenders also include Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung and Goyang Mayor Choi Sung.

A contender with a majority of votes in a 10-day poll, involving over 2 million people across the nation, will emerge as the party's presidential candidate on April 3.

A runoff election will be held until April 8 should no candidate secure a majority of the vote, according to party officials.

Presidential hopefuls of the liberal People's Party pose for a picture before a televised debate in Seoul, South Korea on March 22, 2017. They are (from L) Vice National Assembly Speaker Park Joo-sun, former opposition leader Sohn Hak-kyu and former party chief Ahn Cheol-soo. (Yonhap) Presidential hopefuls of the liberal People's Party pose for a picture before a televised debate in Seoul, South Korea on March 22, 2017. They are (from L) Vice National Assembly Speaker Park Joo-sun, former opposition leader Sohn Hak-kyu and former party chief Ahn Cheol-soo. (Yonhap)

The People's Party, another liberal party, plans to name its nominee by April 4 from three contenders now competing for its nomination.

They are former party leader Ahn Cheol-soo, former opposition leader Sohn Hak-kyu and Vice National Assembly Speaker Park Joo-sun.

The party too will hold a runoff election in case none of its contenders secures a majority of the vote, and name its candidate on April 6.

NEC, the election watchdog, earlier said the official election will begin April 17 following a two-day final registration period for all candidates.

Political watchers, however, said the mood will be set for an election as soon as all four major parties name their candidates.

bdk@yna.co.kr

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