SEOUL, Sept. 28 — The presidential candidates of the ruling and main opposition parties reached out to regional voters Friday with visits to traditional markets and local landmarks while their independent rival attended a forum to discuss foreign policy and inter-Korean relations.
Park Geun-hye, the 60-year-old candidate of the ruling Saenuri Party, visited her hometown of Daegu in the country's southeast in what appeared to be a move to consolidate support in her traditional stronghold.
The five-term lawmaker, who has represented a district in Daegu four times, has seen her approval ratings fall in recent public opinion surveys following her reluctance to acknowledge the dark side of her late father President Park Chung-hee's dictatorship.
After offering a formal apology to the victims of her father's rule on Monday, Park visited the southeastern port city of Busan to attend the launching ceremony of her election campaign team's local branch. Busan is a traditional stronghold of the conservative ruling party, but voters there have lately shown signs of shifting to the liberal camp, which is represented by Moon Jae-in of the main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP) and the independent software mogul-turned-politician, Ahn Cheol-soo.
In Daegu, Park attended an event to mark the launch of her regional election camp, and later met with local residents at a traditional market and senior citizens at a welfare center.
Park's campaign team has hinted that the upcoming three-day Chuseok holiday could be a turning point in favor of Park as she has now shed the historical baggage that had plagued her for years.
Traditionally, millions of Koreans visit their hometowns during the Chuseok holiday, which this year begins on Saturday. The holiday, the Korean equivalent of American Thanksgiving Day, is important during an election year because it allows family members and friends to exchange views on candidates ahead of December's polls.
"As the election contest heats up, it may become difficult (for Park) to visit her stronghold of Daegu," a key aide to Park said, asking not to be identified. "So, this is an opportunity to convey her best wishes ahead of the Chuseok holidays and prepare herself for the election."
After the holidays, she is expected to rally support in regions that traditionally favor the liberals.
Speaking to reporters in Daegu, she said she would spend the holidays contemplating possible candidates to lead her election campaign team.
"I've constantly been in touch with people I could invite from outside (the party) to join such bodies (within the campaign team) as the committee for national unity," she said, declining to identify them before any decisions have been made.
Moon, the 59-year-old DUP candidate with close ties to late President Roh Moo-hyun, wrapped up his two-day trip to the southwestern Jeolla provinces and headed to Busan to spend the holidays with his family.
In Gwangju, the largest city in the Jeolla area, he visited a national cemetery honoring those killed in the 1980 Gwangju democracy uprising. The former human rights lawyer-turned-politician met with families of the victims and signed the visitors' book with the words, "I will defend democracy and make history right."
Ahn, the 50-year-old founder of South Korea's largest anti-virus software firm, AhnLab, stayed in Seoul where he attended a forum on foreign policy and inter-Korean relations.
"Improving relations with North Korea and pursuing unification through peaceful cooperation is our most urgent task," he said. "If we establish a peaceful regime on the Korean Peninsula, a virtuous circle of peace, security and the economy will naturally follow."
The two Koreas remain in a technical state of war after the 1950-53 ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty. (PNA/Yonhap)