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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Race Starts For Korean Presidency

SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korea's 22-day presidential race began officially Wednesday under the dark cloud of a financial crisis that the candidates have so far largely ignored.


Within minutes of the opening of the two-day registration period, five aspirants made their candidacies official with the election management committee. Two more are expected.


The race actually began months ago, and the latest polls show it has come down to a two-man contest between Lee Hoi-chang of the majority party and Kim Dae-jung of the largest opposition group.


They are in a statistical dead-heat, each enjoying popularity ratings of about 33 percent. Kim's ratings have been slipping, however, while Lee's have been climbing.


Trailing well behind in third place is Rhee In-je, a provincial governor who broke with the majority party after failing to win its nomination and formed his own opposition group.


No further public polling is allowed by law before the Dec. 18 election.


All three main candidates have pledged to revive South Korea's ailing economy, but none has offered a specific plan, avoiding the hard choices any such plan would likely entail.


All have given lukewarm endorsement to the government's request for a loan from the International Monetary Fund, a bailout that many observers say could leave the country in debt by as much as $60 billion.


The IMF is expected to impose harsh conditions on its help, including the merger or closure of weak banks and other companies that would bring a sharp increase in unemployment.


"I'll resuscitate the economy by overhauling the financial market,'' Lee, candidate of the majority Grand National Party, said in a vague statement after registering his candidacy.


Kim, standard-bearer of the National Congress for New Politics, said South Korea needs an opposition victory for changes and reforms.


"New wine in a new bag,'' Kim, 72, said, noting the opposition has never won a South Korean presidential election. The country has been ruled by the same political cliques since its founding in 1948.


"As economic uncertainty increases, voters tend to lean towards political stability,'' Auh Soo-young, a political science professor at Ewha Woman's University, said.