Top contenders for South Korea's presidency

(Clockwise, from top left) Mr Moon Jae In, Mr Ahn Cheol Soo, Mr Lee Jae Myung and Mr Hwang Kyo Ahn are the leading contenders in the upcoming South Korean presidential election. PHOTO: EPA, AFP, BLOOMBERG

SEOUL (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - Park Geun Hye's ouster from office on March 10 (Friday) triggered a South Korean presidential election by early May, with a handful of candidates gearing up for a run at taking over Asia's fourth-largest economy.

Leading the pack are lawmakers from the center-left Democratic Party of Korea, which will hold a primary in about a month as it seeks to end nine years of conservative rule. No viable candidate has emerged from Park's ruling Liberty Korea Party, formerly known as Saenuri.

Whoever comes in will face a slew of challenges: the growing threat from North Korea, Chinese retaliation over the Thaad missile-defense system, a slowing economy, and pressure to reform the family-run conglomerates, or chaebol, which played a central role in the scandal that led to Park's downfall.

While there are some policy differences in the opposition camp, most generally favor a softer approach toward the Pyongyang regime and stronger moves to shake up the chaebol.

Here is a brief introduction to the leading contenders and their policies:


Moon Jae In, the leader of the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea, holds a news conference in Seoul on Jan 19, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

The 63-year old former lawmaker and ex-leader of the main opposition Democratic Party lost the previous presidential election to Park by 3 percentage points in 2012. Moon has consistently polled near or at the top of the opinion polls and has been one of the most vocal critics of Park.

His approval rating was at 32 per cent in a Gallup Korea poll released Friday before the ruling.


Ahn Cheol Soo, former leader of the minor opposition People's Party, speaks at a rally in Gwangju, South Korea on Nov 27, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

The 54-year-old computer businessman-turned-politician has also been a vocal critic of Park, but his popularity has waned in recent months after stepping down as co-chair of the new opposition People's Party after it was embroiled in a kickback scandal over advertising funds. Ahn was not implicated. He is currently a member of parliament. His approval rating was at 9 per cent in a Gallup Korea poll released Friday.

Hwang Kyo Ahn

Acting president Hwang Kyo Ahn attending an emergency National Security Council meeting in Seoul. PHOTO: AFP

The 59-year-old prime minister and acting president has yet to declare his candidacy, but he's expected to side with the ruling Liberty Korea Party should he run. As things stand, he's the only conservative out of the five top contenders.

The former prosecutor and justice minister is likely to continue with Park's hardline policies against North Korea. In a recent speech, he said the government should pressure Pyongyang to drop its nuclear weapon and ballistic missile ambitions and punish any provocation. His approval rating was at 9 per cent in a Gallup Korea poll released Friday.

Lee Jae Myung

Lee Jae Myung posing for a photograph following an interview in Seongnam, South Korea. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

The 52-year-old mayor of Seongnam city has said he respects Donald Trump and enjoys being compared to Bernie Sanders. The former human-rights lawyer has called for the reopening of the joint industrial complex with North Korea, and a restart of the program to reunite families divided by the border.

He wants Thaad deployment to be suspended, and has said he wouldn't hesitate to seek a summit with North Korea. He's pledged to raise taxes on conglomerates, and has called for the dismantling of the chaebol and higher levies on inheritances. His approval rating was at 8 per cent in a Gallup Korea poll released Friday.

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