Negotiators for the main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP) candidate Moon Jae-in and independent Ahn Cheol-soo, who met to iron out differences on the selection process, said no understanding was reached on selecting a panel for a deliberate opinion poll or the appointment of an expert jury that can evaluate the pledges and competitive advantage of the two candidates.
Initially, the DUP and Ahn's camp wanted broader participation so as to raise public interest in who becomes the standard bearer for the liberal cause in the Dec. 19 poll, but disagreements, foot dragging and suspension of talks has left almost no time before Monday's negotiation deadline.
"It is now physically impossible to employ other means to gauge public opinion so an opinion poll seems to be the only option available," said Rep. Hong Young-pyo, a senior campaign manager for Moon.
Others in the party concurred and said the remaining issue that needs to be resolved is reaching an agreement on the phrasing of the survey.
Moon Jae-in (L) Ahn Cheol-soo (Yonhap file photo)
Moon's side recommended it would be appropriate if the poll asked prospective voters who is best suited to represent the liberal camp, while Ahn's supporters favor asking people about who stands the better chance of defeating ruling Saenuri Party presidential contender Park Geun-hye in a one-on-one race. The phrase used is critical because Moon leads Ahn in terms of better representing the liberal or opposition camp, while the independent has an edge if people are asked which of the two men can beat Park.
To break the deadlock, the DUP said it offered a compromise solution that incorporates the views of both sides, although this was rejected by Ahn.
Observers said that a compromise phrase may be settled by using words in the survey that incorporate competitiveness, popularity and overall appropriateness to run in this year's presidential election.
In addition to what words will be used, days when the survey will take place is a source of contention since polls carried out on a weekday showed Moon getting higher approval ratings, while Ahn's numbers were higher on weekends.
The independent candidate's election office also said they want mobile phones to be included in any survey since most young people, that form the core of Ahn's support base, may not answer phones in their homes.
Besides such issues, the two sides will have to work out what actions will be taken if a winner's victory is very slim and within the margin of sampling error.
In the event that negotiators are unable to forge an agreement, Ahn said in a meeting with reporters earlier in the day, that there may be a need for the two contenders to meet and try to resolve outstanding differences. This could take place before the scheduled televised debate between Moon and Ahn set for 10 p.m.
This view was shared by Moon's election team officials, who said that an agreement must be reached within the day on how to pick a single candidate, including the selection of a pollster to conduct the survey.
Meanwhile, the ruling Saenuri Party, which downplayed the single candidacy issue altogether, stepped up its criticism by pointing out that the disagreements and suspension of discussions and accusation directed between the two liberal camps, showed once and for all that the entire process is nothing more than a power struggle.
"They may have thought they could win the hearts and minds of people, but what has been revealed so far is a fight to the finish," said Rep. Cho Hae-jin.
He claimed that if Ahn is picked, the DUP will have no reason to exist as a party, while if Moon wins those that support him will opt not to vote altogether. Many of Ahn's supporters are moderates and have no loyalties to any party.
Critics said that while Ahn may have won points by not running for Seoul mayor and by supporting Park Won-soo, in last year's by-election, he only seems to be interested in winning at all costs.
"This can hardly be seen as appealing and will not be able to generate support from the public," a party official said.
The conservative party, moreover said instead of delaying the process any further it is best for the charade to end as soon as possible so the people can really check if either Moon or Ahn has the ability to run the country.
Moon has been a lawmaker since April, with his only other public office being limited to senior aide positions under late President Roh Moo-hyun. Ahn has no experience in government or the public sector, having been a businessman and university professor.