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South Korean election in 100 days, no official rival against NFP's Park

SEOUL -- With just 100 days to go until South Korea's presidential election, voters were still waiting Monday to find out exactly who they will be given the choice of voting for.

The formal nomination deadline for the Dec. 19 poll is not until Nov. 26 and so far there is only one confirmed candidate — Park Geun-hye, daughter of the late military strongman Park Chung-hee.

With President Lee Myung-bak constitutionally barred from a second term after serving five years, Park wrapped up the nomination of the ruling conservative New Frontier Party last month.

What voters still do not know, is the identity of Park's main challenger.

The left-wing main opposition Democratic United Party is currently holding its primaries and seems sure to end up nominating Moon Jae-in, a former aide to the late president Roh Moo-hyun, who has won all 10 primaries so far.

But far more attention is focused on high-profile software mogul Ahn Cheol-soo, who has shown every sign of running a presidential campaign without actually announcing his candidacy.

A political novice with no official party affiliation, Ahn enjoys massive popularity among young liberal voters, and polls show that he has nearly twice the support for a presidential bid as Moon.

A survey published last week by independent polling agency Realmeter showed Park ahead in the polls with 39.9 percent, followed by 27 percent for Ahn and 15.4 percent for Moon.

The DUP has repeatedly urged Ahn to join the party as a presidential candidate.

So far he has demurred, but in theory he could throw his lot in with the opposition even after the primary process is over — leaving him and Moon to reach an accommodation on who would be the party's formal candidate.

“Apparently a half of the DUP lawmakers ... are paying little attention to the party nomination, with their eyes only on what Ahn will do next,” the nation's top-selling Chosun Ilbo newspaper said in an editorial Monday.

It described the DUP's presidential nomination “nothing but a race to choose Ahn's potential running mate.”

Meanwhile, a legal aide of Ahn's stirred up the campaign last week, saying he had been contacted by a ruling party official who threatened to divulge damaging information about Ahn, including an alleged extra-marital affair, if he declared his candidacy.

The official denied the charge, saying he had made the phone call as a friendly gesture to warn against the political gossip that would surround a presidential run by Ahn.

Shin Yul, a political professor at Myungji University, suggested that Ahn's delay in declaring his candidacy was partly aimed at protecting his privacy.

“He's apparently dragging his feet to shun scrutiny of his personal life,” Yul said.

“But there's no reason to further delay the decision, given that such scrutiny has already started here and there,” the JoongAng Ilbo newspaper quoted Shin as saying.

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