South Korea's upcoming presidential election is likely to take place on May 9 at the latest, as the Constitutional Court issued a verdict confirming the removal from office of disgraced President Park Geun-hye on Friday.
As the nation has to elect a new leader within 60 days in order to fill the vacancy, presidential contenders across the aisle face a short presidential campaign. Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn holds the authority to decide on the election date.
Under South Korean election law, civil servants and heads of government should resign 60 days before the election date to compete in the race. For special elections however, that is reduced to 30 days. As there are a number of regional governors who have declared their intention for the presidency, the parties would have to decide on their presidential candidate by April 9 at the latest.
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Currently the most popular party in local polls, the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea had chosen April 3 to proceed with their in-house open primary vote. In four rounds of primary elections from March 22 to April 3, the party will vote to nominate the candidate who secures a majority. In case they fail to obtain a majority winner, the party will elect one by holding a runoff vote on April. 8.
Its primary contenders, former head of the party Moon Jae-in, South Chungcheong Province Gov. An Hee-jung, Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung and Goyang Mayor Choi Sung participated in the party's primary debates on March 3 and Monday, and will appear in eight more, with the next to be televised Tuesday.
The ruling conservative Liberty Korea Party, which comprises Park loyalists and moderate conservative lawmakers, has not specified a date for its nomination, but announced it would select a candidate 30 days before the election. Acting President Hwang, who has not yet indicated his intention for the upcoming presidential race, stands as the strongest contender, while South Gyeongsang Province Gov. Hong Joon-pyo is also viewed as a strong potential candidate for the camp. Gov. Hong said he would join the party and announce his bid for the presidency when he "has confidence in victory."
The minor liberal People's Party sees a competitive primary between former party chief Ahn Cheol-soo and former head of the Democratic Party Sohn Hak-kyu. While the two continue to collide over primary rules, the party settled on an in-house voting date of March 28 to determine its presidential candidate.
The splinter conservative Bareun Party, which was created by anti-Park lawmakers that defected from the ruling party last year, will also come up with a presidential candidate on the same day as the People's Party. Rep. Yoo Seong-min and Gyeonggi Province Gov. Nam Kyung-pil are both pinning their hopes on courting a wider electorate.
According to the latest poll by Realmeter on Thursday, the Democratic Party garnered 49.3 per cent support, high above the ruling Liberty Korea Pary which followed with 13.5 per cent. The People's Party posted 10.3 per cent support while the Bareun Party stood at 6 per cent.
Leading the pack of presidential hopefuls is Moon, who topped the list with 36.1 per cent support in the same poll. He ran against impeached President Park in the last presidential election in 2012. Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn followed at 14.2 per cent, and Gov. An from Democratic Party posted 12.9 per cent. Mayor Lee stood at 10.5 per cent and Ahn from the People's Party had 9.9 per cent support.