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More than 1 million register in DP primary

Feb 28,2017
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From Left: Moon Jae-in; An Hee-jung; Lee Jae-myung
More than a million people registered to vote in the Democratic Party’s primary race to elect its nominee, the party said Monday, raising the stakes for presidential aspirants to win the minds of undecided voters through a series of live debates.

The DP said over a million people have so far registered to cast ballots in the primary to elect its presidential nominee to run in the race to succeed President Park Geun-hye, whose fate is hanging in the balance pending the Constitutional Court’s verdict.

The DP’s feat came less than two weeks after it began receiving voting registrations on Feb. 15, amid the looming prospect that there would be a change of power through an electoral victory from the conservatives to the liberals, who lost their grip in state affairs in the 2007 presidential election and have failed to reclaim it since.

For this year’s primary race, the DP is allowing non-party members to take part in the nomination process, as long as they register beforehand. Considering the DP has an estimated 195,000 party delegates and members, who are automatically registered to vote, around 800,000 without party affiliations have so far signed up.

While the Constitutional Court has not announced a verdict date, the opposition is hoping it will be between March 9 and March 13, since Justice Lee Jung-mi is scheduled to retire from the current eight-member bench on the latter date. The party is receiving voting registrations in the first round until three days prior to the Court’s ruling date.

For the second round, the DP is planning to receive registrations for the next 10 days, starting from the court’s ruling on whether to remove President Park from office. If she is removed, it will be the first time a president has been forced out of office through impeachment in Korean history.

Considering the DP has amassed over 800,000 non-party members in voting registration over the past 12 days, the party is confident it could well reach 1.5 million and even break 2 million by the end of its second round of registrations.

With palpable signs of public enthusiasm for the DP primary, the stakes are getting higher for three DP presidential runners to find ways to appeal to undecided non-party voters taking part in the primary, especially through nine scheduled debates.

Trying to catch up with frontrunner Moon Jae-in, the former opposition nominee who lost to Park in 2012 race, South Chungcheong Governor An Hee-jung and Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung are honing their debate skills.

The fact that a large number of non-Democrats are willing to participate in the party primary is good news for the second movers as Moon commands strong support from the 195,000 Democrats.

As for frontrunner Moon, critics say he speaks as if he is merely repeating what he has memorized and that he needs to be more improvisational.

The 52-year-old governor, who ranks second in the polls, is practicing making concise and easy-to-understand remarks with detailed blueprints for his policy platforms. It has been pointed out that An, the two-term governor, sometimes speaks in vague and philosophical terms on the stump.

“What I need to be trained on is learning to speak in simple and shorter terms,” said An during a meeting with senior journalists on Wednesday.

While Seongnam Mayor Lee’s straight-forward and blunt speaking style helped his approval rating soar in December in the aftermath of the Choi Soon-sil scandal, it is also the very same manner that is preventing him from appealing to a wider base of supporters.

The three DP contenders will have their first debate Friday hosted by CBS radio.

In the latest poll, Moon widened his gap with the other rivals by receiving 33.5 percent of support, the highest point ever, while An came in second with 18.9 percent, down by 1.5 percent from a previous poll, possibly an outcome of his remark on Feb. 19 that President Park had “good intentions” in creating two foundations allegedly used by her friend Choi to receive money from conglomerates in return for business favors. An later apologized for his comment.

Acting president Hwang Kyo-ahn ranked third with 10.9 percent, down by 3.9 percent from a week earlier. Good news came for Seongnam Mayor Lee, who climbed back to a double digit approval rating with 10.1 percent, after five weeks in the single digits. Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo of the People’s Party also received 10.1 percent, tying with Lee.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]