Korea ruling party presidential candidate struggles to improve ratings

Seoul (The Korea Herald/ANN) - In response to renewed alliance talks between her progressive rivals, ruling Saenuri Party presidential candidate Park Geun-hye is stepping up a campaign emphasising the prospect of electing the nations' first female president. Her efforts, however, are being held back by support ratings that have stagnated below 45 per cent.

Park's popularity ratings in various polls have remained between 37 per cent and 41 per cent for the past several weeks. The stifled support comes as the conservative candidate was seen to backtrack on her progressive initiatives. Most notably, the Friday announcement of her economic democratisation platform that excluded some key measures was attacked by her opponents for taking the side of chaebol.

With anticipation that the looming unified candidacy between Democratic Untied Party candidate Moon Jae-in and independent candidate Ahn Cheol-soo will result in a surge of support for the progressive bloc, the Saenuri Party's campaign team are busily searching for a breakthrough.

"As we see that there are only the procedural factors left in the single candidacy of the opposition, we will be preparing measures that fit the situation," said Kim Moo-sung, head of Park's general election headquarters at a morning meeting.

For this, the Central Election Commission has decided on three slogans for their campaign centred on Park as the first woman president. They include: "A promise that will change the world, a woman president who is prepared"; "Responsible change, and a woman president who is prepared"; and "Joyful Republic of Korea, a woman president who is ready."

Park has also been busy visiting campaign stops that ordinarily had been considered out-of-norm for the former first daughter.

According to the surveys by Gallup Korea and Research and Research, Park receives around 40 per cent against Moon and Ahn. Her ratings remain at around 45 per cent in two-way matchups against Moon and Ahn.

The number has remained constant through variables such as the agreement and brief suspension of the liberal rivals' single candidacy talks, and the special probe into President Lee Myung-bak's defunct retirement plan.

The support for Park by age group has also changed little. In the past seven weeks in two-way matchups, Park earned around 30 per cent of support from those in their twenties and thirties, 45 per cent from those in their 40s, and 60 to 70 per cent from those in their 50s and 60s.

Observers say the key to Park's success in the election will be whether she manages to gain at least 51 per cent by earning support beyond her traditional supporters, higher age groups from the Gyeongsang provinces.

Over the weekend, Park participated in a workers' rally on Saturday, and made pledges to expand the middle-class bracket to 70 per cent of the population by alleviating household burdens the next day. In the afternoon, she put on a pair of jeans and a red sweater and danced to Psy's international hit "Gangnam Style" with college students at her vision declaration event.

"With a woman's delicate and strong leadership, I will set right the nation's finances and execute an economical management of the country to minimise the people's burden and maximise the resources of people's happiness," Park said at the event.

Yesterday, her Committee for Korea's 100 Per Cent and Grand Unity held a rally and vowed a victorious election.

Her campaign, however, has been criticised for still not in reaching out to the younger or progressive voters despite her earlier campaign focused on "nation's unity."

Park had launched her official campaign with a unity tour by visiting the widows of former progressive presidents and attempting to pay tribute to former democratic activist Jeon Tae-il, although it was blocked by protesters.

Upon her apologies for her father's iron-fisted rule in September, her support appeared to be taking a slight upturn. But she has so far remained cautions in making follow-up measures, and was hit by the Jeongsu Scholarship Foundation controversy the next month.

Campaign members point out that it may be necessary for Park to take a more enthusiastic approach, such as by arranging a visit to the bereaved families of Inhyeokdang case from her late father former President Park Chung-hee's iron-fisted rule, or touching up on the prolonged Ssangyong Motor case where laid off workers continue to strike for their reinstatement in front of the Saenuri Party office in Yeouido.

"It is up to her to make such moves that will be the key to beating whoever comes out as her final rival," a party source said.

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