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Cablegate: Can the Non-Gnp Candidates Come Together?

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DE RUEHUL #2047/01 1900811
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 090811Z JUL 07
FM AMEMBASSY SEOUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 5424
INFO RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 2787
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 2899
RUEHIN/AIT TAIPEI 2051
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RUALSFJ/COMUSJAPAN YOKOTA AB JA
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA J2 SEOUL KOR
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA J5 SEOUL KOR
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA SCJS SEOUL KOR
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC//OSD/ISA/EAP//

UNCLAS SEOUL 002047

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL KS
SUBJECT: CAN THE NON-GNP CANDIDATES COME TOGETHER?

REF: SEOUL 1841

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SUMMARY
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1. (U) Despite a GNP-centered race thus far, the liberal
side is also gearing up for the presidential race, with a
steady flow of hopefuls throwing their hat into the ring.
Major center-left hopefuls, mostly those from the ruling
camp, recently agreed to launch a new united party and stand
behind a single candidate. But the path toward that goal
will not be easy as they will have tQvercome numerous
obstacles, including resistance from the Uri Party and the
Moderate United Democrats (MUD) loyalists, rules on the "open
primary", and the actual viability of the eventual candidate.
For these reasons, some predict the liberals would rather
conduct separate primaries by faction than unify behind a
single candidate at the last minute. For now, Sohn Hak-kyu,
the former Gyeonggi governor who bolted from the GNP, remains
in front with all other liberals trailing several points
behind in all polls. End Summary.

-------------------
LATEST DEVELOPMENTS
-------------------

2. (U) The current race has apparently been characterized by
the competition between Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye, the
"big two" conservative candidates. Political Science
Professor Kang Won-taek at Soongsil University told us that
the liberal/progressive side lacked any defining element to
solidify its core supporters this time around, whereas
regionalism played a key part in the 1997 election and
generational gap did the same in 2002. But the center-left
is nonetheless actively scrambling ahead of the election,
trying to maintain a viable shot at the presidency.
Moreover, although national security issues are not generally
perceived as the top priority in the current campaign, DPRK
issues can always become a factor given a last-minute
breakthrough, such as a South-North summit, according to Han
Gue-young, Senior Researcher at the Korea Society Opinion
Institute (KSOI), a polling company.

3. (U) On July 4, Kim Geun-tae and six presidential hopefuls
from the center-left, namely, Sohn Hak-kyu, Chung Dong-young,
Lee Hae-chan, Han Myeong-sook, Kim Hyuk-kyu, and Chun
Jung-bae, agreed to form a united party later this month and
stand behind a single presidential candidate. Subsequently,
a group of Uri defectors came up with a more concrete
"roadmap" toward the launch of a new party that would
incorporate all Uri factions by the end of July or early
August. They are seeking ways to absorb the Uri party, as
well as joining hands with NGOs. Some say that, should the
resistance of pro-Roh members of the Uri Party become too
fierce, those who support a broader integration would have to
defect collectively to join the new party. In this case, the
primary in this camp would have to be conducted in three
different "factions", i.e., the faction seeking a new party,
the Moderate United Democrats, and the remaining Uri party
members.

----------------------
WHO'S WHO IN THE RACE?
----------------------

4. (U) Sohn Hak-kyu, Chung Dong-young, and Lee Hae-chan are
the so-called "big three" on the center-left side, more
commonly referred to as "progressives." While Sohn and Chung
are anti-Roh candidates, Lee is an unabashed pro-Roh
candidate. Both Sohn and Chung are trying to bridge the gap
between the group seeking a broad integration and the MUD, in
an effort to incorporate both factions and play a key role
toward the unification of the fractured progressives. The
reason they cannot ignore the MUD is that the party has a
firm support base in the Jeolla region, the home to anti-GNP
voters. To win Jeolla voters, Sohn must overcome his image
as a GNP has-been. Chung equally needs to solidify his
traditional support base in the Jeolla region. KSOI's Han
says, however, unlike Sohn who is enjoying the highest polls
among non-GNP hopefuls, Chung's popularity has been on a
constant decline ever since it peaked between late 2002 and
early 2004.

5. (U) Lee Hae-chan, who served as the Prime Minister from
2004 to 2006, kicked off his presidential bid in earnest in
mid-June. Researcher Han Gue-young suggests that his
perceived strengths include: 1) his close ties to both former
President Kim Dae-jung and incumbent President Roh Moo-hyun;
2) his hometown being in the Choongchung province, a swing
district and a good place to start absorbing voters in the
Jeolla province; and 3) his appeal as a viable answer to
GNP's Lee Myung-bak, in terms of drive and decisiveness. But
on the other hand, Han said, he has yet to overcome his
limited approval rating (between eight and nine percent among
non-GNP hopefuls, and three percent among all hopefuls), and
his negative image associated with the golf scandal of March
2006. Nevertheless, KSOI researcher Han said Lee is expected
to be the most viable among all pro-Roh candidates,
surpassing Han Myeong-sook, Kim Hyuk-kyu and Kim Doo-kwan,
and would eventually compete with Sohn Hak-kyu and Chung
Dong-young for the nomination on the progressive side.

6. (U) Additionally, Choo Mi-ae, former lawmaker and DP
chairwoman, Shin Ki-nam, former Uri chairman, and Rhee In-je,
former presidential candidate in both 1997 and 2002, have all
announced their bids. Former Health and Welfare Minister
Rhyu Simin, who was formerly an aide to Lee Hae-chan, and
Yuhan Kimberly CEO Moon Kook-hyun are also said to be
considering entering the race.

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WAY FORWARD
-----------

7. (U) Talks on the primary rules are under way, with a view
to reaching an agreement by mid-July. Among the proposals
include a schedule of holding a "cut-off primary" by the end
of August in order to first filter out the less-popular
hopefuls, then move on to the real primary sometime in
September and confirm their candidate by October. Meanwhile,
some members of the Moderate United Democrats are also said
to be ready to defect their party sometime in July to join
the new party yet to be launched.

8. (U) Still, nothing is clear on the broad array of
center-left groups: 1) Whether the MUD as a party will join
the broader progressive integration; 2) Whether the Uri
loyalists will keep resisting the integration; 3) How the
rules for an "open primary" or public participation in a
primary will be set out and implemented; and 4) How they will
avoid criticism of a "makeshift" party reshuffle, since
everyone except Sohn among the six hopefuls who agreed to
pursue a unified party are related to the Uri party, either
as the Uri leadership or Cabinet officials in this
administration.

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COMMENT
-------

9. (SBU) If all of this is confusing, it's because it is.
Simply put, the center-left is being torn in a number of
directions, especially between the Roh-loyalists and those
who want to completely disassociate themselves from the
unpopular president. The only item they agree on is that a
GNP candidate may not be elected as president in December,
which, conventional wisdom has it is enough to produce a
unified candidate eventually. Perhaps, but time is running
out for them to get their act together.
VERSHBOW

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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