South Korea's two top presidential
hopefuls kicked off 22 days of campaigning Tuesday for the crucial
December election as polls predict an increasingly tight race.
The ruling Saenuri Party's Park Geun-hye, who is looking to become the first female leader of the country and extend the conservative rule for another five years, began campaigning with a stop at the National Cemetery in Seoul.
Her father, military strongman Park Chung-hee, is buried at the cemetery. The legacy of the senior Park's 18-year rule is subject to partisan dispute, with supporters lauding him for modernizing the country while critics pointing to human rights abuses.
The main opposition Democratic United Party's Moon Jae-in, who was once jailed for protesting against the late dictator, flew to the conservative stronghold of Busan where he earned a parliamentary seat earlier this year.
Moon, a former human rights lawyer who served as chief of staff to late President Roh Moo-hyun, has said his campaign represents new political voices disempowering the entrenched interests.
Latest polls show a tight race between the two rivals, with a survey of 1,500 people by ratings agency Realmeter putting Park at 45.4 percent compared to Moon at 43.8 percent.
The two candidates are vying to win over swing voters and former supporters of Ahn Cheol-soo, an independent who abruptly withdrew from the race last week to endorse Moon as a sole candidate on the liberal ticket.
Ahn, who was widely popular among the centrists and those disenchanted with the political establishment, was engaged in short- lived talks with Moon over merging their campaigns.
Analyses vary as to who would manage to absorb the majority of Ahn's supporters, but observers agree swing voters hold a key to the fate of the Dec. 19 election.
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