Polls show tight race:
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.