A former news anchor and chief cabinet official in charge of North Korea policy has won a presidential primary in South Korea's second most influential political party. Former Unification Minister Chung Dong-young is a political ally of President Roh Moo-hyun, whose term ends later this year. But as VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul, to win the presidency, Mr. Chung will have to close a yawning gap in the polls.
A senior official in South Korea's United New Democratic Party announced the primary results Monday in Seoul.
He says former South Korean Unification Minister Chung Dong-young won the primary tally by a decisive margin of votes - making him the party's candidate in December's presidential election.
The party itself has only been in existence for a matter of months. Most of its members defected from the progressive Uri Party of South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, whose term expires in February. The Uri party dissolved itself soon after suffering massive defeats in local elections in May.
Most of the new party's politicians have sought to distance themselves from President Roh, who many South Koreans blame for mismanagement of economic and foreign policy issues.
As Mr. Roh's Unification Minister, Chung Dong-Young was Seoul's chief architect of North Korean policy from July 2004 to 2005. He is one of very few South Koreans to have ever met privately with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.
The two Koreas remain technically at war. A 1953 armistice stopped the fighting three years after North Korea invaded the South, but a formal peace treaty was never signed.
The Roh administration supports a generous policy of engagement with North Korea. It has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on cross-border aid and investment, including a South Korean-funded industrial park employing North Korean workers in the city of Kaesong.
After being welcomed to the podium by supporters chanting his name, Chung said projects like Kaesong should be massively expanded.
He calls economic cooperation with the North a "blue ocean" of opportunity for South Korea.
Chung told Monday's party convention that South Korea must continue diplomacy with the North through multinational talks aimed at ending Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programs.
He also said he has a special, personal interest in arranging a permanent peace for the Korean peninsula.
He says he was born on July 27, 1953 - the date the Korean armistice was signed. He says he believes that is an indication he should be the one to arrange a permanent North-South peace arrangement.
Chung has an uphill battle ahead of him. Opinion polls show the conservative opposition candidate, former Seoul Mayor Lee Myung-bak, holds a commanding lead of up to 50 percentage points. The presidential vote is scheduled for December 19.