Korean Presidential Election: Less than three weeks to go. With polls within the margin of error, does this weekend’s twist of Ahn Cheol Soo rejection of a joint conservative ticket keep Lee Jae Myung in the game?
Alex Jensen and Choi Kyungmi discuss the latest machinations, polls and possibilities.
With less than three weeks to go Ahn Cheol Soo has ruled out a joint ticket with Yoon Seok Yeol. In an election campaign full of twists, this rejection is not seen as a final refusal. All possibilities still seem possible until February 28, the day the ballot tickets are printed.
Recent polling has conservative candidate Yoon Seok Yeol consistently ahead progressive Lee Jae Myung. However, with Ahn Cheol Soo’s candidature, a joint conservative ticket would enjoy a healthy lead. The candidate himself suggested the idea earlier in the week.
However, after tragedy struck Ahn Cheol Soo’s campaign last week the Ahn appears to change his mind. As most know, the campaign was suspended to mourn the loss of a local campaign chief and a bus driver and visit a second bus driver recovering from a similar accident.
With eighteen days to go, Yoon has a consistent lead in the polls. However, given the recent rises and falls in polling numbers, it seems that this race will be a tight one.
This episode is brought to you by Eastpoint Partners. Offers an unparalleled Asia-wide network of relationships with corporates, governments and investors.
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Alex Jenson 00:08
You’re listening to Koreabizcast with the KBLA. I’m your host Alex Jensen, and it’s Monday, February 21. We’re now several days into the presidential election campaigns. And it’s very difficult to call between the top two candidates. According to polls, the ruling party’s Lee Jae Myung, and Yoon suk yeol of the main opposition, who does seem to have his nose in front. But then there’s been a big twist over the past weekend, because you have Ahn Cheol Soo, as the great disrupter having just ruled himself out of a merger with Yoon. And we’re left wondering if this does go ahead with all of them running separately. Will that eat into Yoon’s votes? Or perhaps could it even eat into Lee Jae Myung’s votes, or could on himself somehow turn it around despite trailing behind as an individual in the polls? Lots of questions there. There are also concerns about lack of clarity on what the candidates stand for. As new promises get added from the campaign trail. We’ll have much more coming up. But let me also thank today’s sponsor Eastpoint Partners, which offers an unparalleled Asia wide network of relationships with corporates, governments and investors. So now with just about two weeks to go until election day, let’s catch up with our special issues. Reporter Kyungmi Choi, thank you very much as ever.
Kyungmi Choi 01:28
Thank you for having me, Alex.
Alex Jenson 01:31
Ahn Cheol Soo dropping his proposal for a merger. Just yesterday was a big moment. It also meant us having to completely change the tone of what we had hoped to talk about. Mergers, though they’ve always been a huge factor to take into consideration in most presidential elections here, and they can yet be some twists and turns. Before we get into the details, then of the latest developments, let’s look back a little bit on some past campaign merger attempts.
Kyungmi Choi 01:59
Yes, so the first attempt for Korea’s presidential candidates to unify their campaigns goes back to December of 1987. After Koreans had the right to our direct presidential election. They gained the right through what’s known as the June democratic struggle or the 6wol Minjuhangjaeng. And it was a night nationwide pro democracy movement demanding the government at the time to revise the Constitution that would allow direct presidential elections in Korea and other democratic reforms. And the military regime of Chun doohwan at the time announced Roh Taewoo as its next president, and this is what ultimately triggered the mass protests. So the regime gave into people’s demands as a belief that Roh would still be able to win in a direct election. However, voters at the time wanted one of the candidates that took part in the protests to win with all that was either Kim Youngsam or Kim Daejung, but the two ended up running separately and lost. And in the end, Roh Taewoo won with 36.64% of the votes while Kim Youngsam gained 28.03% and Kim Daejung only had 27.04%.
Alex Jenson 03:03
Another interesting example, though, was the 16th presidential election, just to put a year on that to remind us all 2002. And there was a dramatic turnaround that actually led to the victory of then Victor Roh moohyun and, you know, it was kind of almost a bit like Ahn Cheol Soo. And third I don’t know about the polls being a comparison but in terms of the third place candidate, merging and then ended up winning the election.
Kyungmi Choi 03:33
Right so former president Roh moohyun of the Liberal Party was running through it at the time and a poll released just 50 days ahead of the election. He had 18% of the support, while conservative candidate Lee Hoichang was in the lead with 34% and former businessman and conservative lawmaker Jung mongjoon was up next with 24% of support, but just thought days later, no proposed merger to Jung and the two sides quickly formed the negotiating team to discuss the possibility of a unification. Then around two weeks later, just 25 days until all the election, the two agreed to unify their candidacy even though they had different political orientations. This helped no quickly gained support and eventually win the election, but only by a very narrow margin are no had 48.91% of the votes in the end compared to 46.58% of Lee Hoichang. And this example shows that timing is crucial to merger negotiations, or with unification have known to gain momentum mostly around 40 days ahead of the election. And experts analyze that they were able to achieve a synergy effect by combining Jung’s conservative supporters who were against the other conservative candidate Lee Hoichang and those supporters hoped for mostly from the middle class.
Alex Jenson 04:47
There was a time when Ahn Cheol Soo just supporting someone else would make a huge difference. For example, when he backed late former Seoul Mayor Park Wonsoon before he became mayor, but then when he supported President Moon Jae In merged with him back in 2012. As many of us will be aware, it was Park Geunhye who won on that occasion. So, in other words, mergers don’t always turn out for the best for those who decide to unify. Right
Kyungmi Choi 05:15
So back in 2012, or head of the 18th presidential election, ex President Park Geunhye was leading and polls are followed by then independent candidate Ahn Cheol Soo, who was running for president for the first time, and followed by Moon Jae In of the Democratic Party. With some 40 days to go until race day Moon and Ahn agreed to unify. But the negotiations didn’t go smoothly as the two sides disagreed over the merger method and spent weeks on talks, and Ahn finally endorsed smoothie and decided to drop out just one month before the election. But many voters are known to have turned their backs during the negotiation process, and Moon ended up losing narrowly to Park Geunhye 48.02% to 51.55%.
Alex Jenson 05:42
And it seems like Ahn Cheol Soo has found himself in a position a decade later where he realized perhaps his best chance of winning this election, maybe his only chance of winning this election would be to merge with one of the two stronger candidates and to somehow be the one who would get the pick. And so we saw a development on that. What was it earlier this month?
Kyungmi Choi 06:21
Alright, so around a week ago on Sunday, February 13 Ahn Cheol Soo now the candidate for his People’s Party proposed a merger with the main opposition People Power Party or PPP’s Yoon Suk yeol to take on ruling Democratic Party’s candidate Lee Jae Myung. And Ahn proposed that the two sides field a single candidate, and that they choose between himself and Yoon Suk yeol through a public opinion survey. He said they should use survey methods that were similar to the ones used by the main opposition party to determine the candidate for Seoul mayor in last April’s by election, when Ahn himself lost against now Seoul Mayor Oh Sehun and the main opposition party welcomed the proposal as a whole but opposed the idea of deciding the candidate through a survey. And it argued that conducting an opinion poll could raise issues with adverse selection or the possibility of Lee Jae Myung and his party supporters picking on and the party also claims that there’s no need to conduct a separate poll implying that Ahn should endorse their candidate, with many polls showing that Yoon Suk yeol is in the lead and Kim Jaewon who was a member of the PPP Supreme Council compared conducting a poll to manipulating the rankings at the Olympics, as the placings in the polls have become clear already. But Ahn Cheol Soo’s campaigns team has emphasized that the survey method it’s proposing was already approved by the PPP ahead of last year’s by election. And they added that Ahn can finish the race on his own if the PPP has no intention to merge.
Alex Jenson 07:48
So the latest announcement by Ahn to basically say he’s not going to be merging anymore, came exactly a week after he first made the suggestion to do so. And also a day after he resumed campaigning, which was on Saturday prior to that, his whole world must have felt like it turned upside down and not just his in a very tragic way those affected by the deaths of two workers related to his campaigns.
Kyungmi Choi 08:16
So a local campaign chief in a bus driver were founded inside campaign vehicles last Tuesday, or the day official campaigning for the election began. And both of them are known to have passed away due to gas poisoning from a generator that powers an LED screen. And another bus driver remains unconscious at a hospital after being in a similar accident. So Ahn suspended all his campaign activities immediately and attended the funerals of the deceased driver and the campaign chief and also paid a visit to the hospitalized driver. And there were speculations that Ahn could drop out of the race and endorse Yoon Suk yeol after he suspended his campaigns. But when Ahn Cheol Soo resumed his campaigns on Saturday, or reversing these expectations, he said that he will not get into any kind of trouble and that he will walk the path of change and innovation, a path to the future and not to the past, and a path of unity and not the vision and become more strong firm without a hint of wavering.
Alex Jenson 09:13
So that was a pretty strong clue. But then, yesterday, we had the press conference, which was hastily gathered together actually on an emergency basis to clarify this to the media,
Kyungmi Choi 09:26
Right and Ahn made similar comments to the ones he made a day earlier saying, even though it may be rough and difficult, he has decided to go his way steadfastly. He said after the funerals of the workers were over, he decided that it was meaningless to wait for a response for merger any longer, and he claimed that the main opposition party sufficiently and clearly demonstrated through its lack of response and spreading of fake news that it has neither the will nor the sincerity for a merger over the past week, and that all responsibility for a failed merger falls on Yoonn and the PPP. So technically the candidates have until February 28, to make their final say in whether they want to merge or not, because that’s when the ballots are printed. And when reporters asked whether there’s no chance of a merger, even if Yoon make a new proposal, Ahn responded by saying that with around just two weeks left until election day, there’s not enough time to start new negotiations on the working level, which usually comes before our candidates themselves me for talks. And he’s apparently delivered a stance to the main opposition candidate through a brief phone call earlier in the day yesterday. And experts seem divided over whether this would be more favorable for Lee Jae Myung or Yoon Suk yeol at this point. So I guess we’ll have to see how this plays out in the remaining time before the election.
Alex Jenson 10:43
For what it’s worth, my initial instinct was that this would be more harmful to you. And I’m sure perhaps others would have felt the same way. After all it was Yoon, who was the subject of the merger, and if Yoon would have even entertained the merger, it would have been because he knew that his votes would have been helpful to him. But there is uncertainty now, more than there was before even. Let’s take a look at the polls which were conducted after the official campaigns took off last Tuesday. For what they’re worth, because I think the next polls will be perhaps even more interesting, based on Ahn decision yesterday or the announcement made yesterday and the day before.
Kyungmi Choi 11:22
And I’ll pour commissioned by the three major broadcasters, which are KBS, MBC, and SBS and conducted by Ipsos Korea research in Hong Kong research, Yoon led with 39.2% and Lee followed with 35.2%. And this was within the margin of error of plus or minus 2.2 percentage points out of 95% confidence level. Meanwhile, Ahn Cheol Soo had 8.1% support and Shim Sangjung post two or 3.7% support. Although survey was conducted on 2006 adults on Tuesday and Wednesday and released last Thursday, and in another survey conducted by obs and Media Research. Yoon Suk yeol also led with 43.6% and Lee Jae Myung had 40.4% support, and the gap was also within the margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points at a 95% confidence level. And the survey was conducted on 1000 adults from Monday to Wednesday and released on Thursday.
Alex Jenson 12:20
But we did have some polls showing the gap between the top two candidates outside the margin of error. And that may give you until your hope regardless of the armed murderer or not.
Kyungmi Choi 12:32
Right so in the poll conducted by M green public case that research and Korea Research Yoon Suk yeol ahead 40% support against Lee Jae Myung 31% support, and the 9% gap between the two was outside the margin of error of plus minus 3.1 percentage points out of 95% confidence level, and they gained five percentage points and lost four percentage points each from last week, and Ahn Cheol So 8% support down by one percentage points from the previous week. And Shim Sangjung also lost two percentage points and had 2% support and in response to which candidate will most likely win 48% said Yoon Suk yeol as opposed to 32% saying Lee Jae Myung and the poll was conducted on 1,012 adults from Monday to Wednesday and released on Thursday. And in the most recent poll released on Friday, conducted by Gallup Korea, Yoon Suk yeol had 41% and Lee Jae Myung had 34% support, which was also outside the margin of error of plus minus 3.1 percentage points out of 95% confidence level. And Yoon Suk yeol saw his rating go up by four percentage points. And he has been seeing his support go up in the Gallup Poll since his rating dropped to an all time low of 26% in the first week of January, and Lee Jae Myung saw his support dropped by two percentage points. And this is notable as the gap between the two candidates stood at one percentage points just in the previous week. And Ahn Cheol Soo saw his rating go down for three consecutive weeks and had 11% approval, which was followed by Shim Sangjung down with 4%. And this poll was conducted on 1,007 adults from Tuesday to Thursday.
Alex Jenson 14:14
Well, on the one hand, it shows a movement Yoon Suk yeol’s direction on the other shows things can change quite a lot in a week. So let’s keep our eyes peeled, and our ears peeled on the podcast. Thank you Kyungmi Choi. Thank you very much.
Kyungmi Choi 14:27
Thank you for having me, Alex.
Alex Jenson 14:29
And I would also like to just pose a question to everybody and that is, is there anything about this election that you would want to know that we could ask young me to find out for us if you want to get in touch on that or other issues? Find us on LinkedIn by searching, KBLA and send us a message or email email@example.com Also, thanks to Eastpoint Partners for making today’s episode possible. And otherwise, see you again tomorrow.