Polls show tight race:

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Fos­ter Klug and Hyung-Jin Kim

The son of North Korean refugees faces the daugh­ter of a late dic­ta­tor in South Korea’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion Wed­nes­day.

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA — The lib­eral son of North Korean refugees faces the con­ser­va­tive daugh­ter of a late dic­ta­tor in South Korea’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion Wed­nes­day. For all their dif­fer­ences, both hold sim­i­lar views on the need to en­gage with Py­ongyang and other is­sues.

One big rea­son: Vot­ers are deeply dis­sat­is­fied with cur­rent Pres­i­dent Lee Myung-bak, in­clud­ing with his hard­line stance on the coun- try’s au­thor­i­tar­ian ri­val to the north. Park Ge­un­hye, who be­longs to Lee’s party, has had to tack to the cen­ter in her bid to be­come South Korea’s first woman pres­i­dent.

Ahead of the elec­tion, polls showed Park and Moon Jae-in in a dead heat to lead Asia’s fourth­largest econ­omy and an im­por­tant U.S. se­cu­rity bul­wark in the re­gion.

There’s deep­en­ing worry about the econ­omy and dis­gust over the al­leged involvement of aides close to Lee in cor­rup­tion scan­dals.

Many vot­ers blame Lee’s hard-line views for en­cour­ag­ing North Korea to con­duct nu­clear and mis­sile tests — in­clud­ing Py­ongyang’s rocket launch last week. Some also say the chill in North- South re­la­tions led to two at­tacks blamed on Py­ongyang that killed 50 South Kore­ans in 2010.

The ef­fort to cre­ate dis­tance with Lee has been dif­fi­cult for Park, whose pop­u­lar­ity rests on a staunchly con­ser­va­tive, anti-North Korea base.

Both can­di­dates pro­pose pulling back from Lee’s in­sis­tence that en­gage­ment with North Korea be linked to so-far-non ex­is­tent nu­clear dis­ar­ma­ment progress by Py­ongyang. Park, how­ever, in­sists on more con­di­tions than Moon, who wants to re­store largescale government aid.

Moon is an ex-chief of staff to Lee’s pre­de­ces­sor, late Pres­i­dent Roh Moohyun, who cham­pi­oned the “sun­shine pol­icy” of no-strings-at­tached aid for Py­ongyang.

He wants an early sum­mit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Park has also held out the pos­si­bil­ity of such a meet­ing, but only if it’s “an hon­est di­a­logue.”

Who­ever wins the pres­i­den­tial Blue House will set the ini­tial tone for new North Korea pol­icy not just in Seoul but in Washington, Bei­jing and Tokyo.

A Moon elec­tion could lead to fric­tion with Washington if new en­gage­ment with Py­ongyang comes with­out any of the re­cip­ro­cal nu­clear dis­ar­ma­ment progress that Washington de­mands.

Can­di­dates Moon Jae-in (left) and Park Geun-hye both run as al­ter­na­tives to in­cum­bent Pres­i­dent Lee Myung-bak’s hard-line stance on North Korea. AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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