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S. Korean Desire for Change Hampers Former Cabinet Minister's Presidential Bid


He has been a South Korean cabinet minister, and sat across the negotiating table from North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. However, former news anchor Chung Dong-young is a distant second in polls ahead of Wednesday's South Korean presidential election. As VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul, experts say Chung's standing is hurt by his connections to an incumbent president many view as ineffective.

With South Korea's presidential campaign in its last few days, Chung Dong-Young's rallies remain loud and passionate.

Despite that enthusiasm, with an approval rating of about 16 percent, Chung trails the race's frontrunner by about 30 percentage points.

Chung is the nominee of the United New Democrats' Party, or UNDP - an alliance of liberal politicians that came together earlier this year, after the Uri party of President Roh Moo-hyun dissolved.

Uri suffered massive defeats in local elections last year, mainly based on voter discontent with the Roh administration. Polling experts say voters think South Korea's economic and diplomatic standing in the world has suffered because of what many say is indecisive leadership by Mr. Roh.

As a former unification minister, Chung is closely tied to President Roh, who is constitutionally barred from a second term.

Chung has staked his campaign on plans to deepen President Roh's policy of engagement with North Korea, which has transferred billions of dollars in aid and investment across the border in the interest of peace.

He calls North Korea a "blue ocean" of economic opportunity for South Korea, and says he will create more zones similar to a South Korean-funded industrial park in the North Korean city of Kaesong.

The engagement policy, however, lost public favor last year, when North Korea conducted its first nuclear weapons test.

Polls indicate about 46 percent of voters back conservative candidate Lee Myung-bak, who says cooperation with the North must be more closely tied to getting rid of nuclear weapons.

However, Kim Jin-hah, a political science professor at South Korea's Keimyoung University, says Chung trails mostly because people are voting in this election with their wallets.

Kim says voters are looking for someone who can provide steady jobs for the economy. He also points out that sentiments of national independence and anti-Americanism are not as strong in South Korea as they were when President Roh seized on them to get elected.

In the last days of the campaign, Chung has focused on fraud allegations against his rival Lee. The frontrunner was cleared of those charges, but Chung's supporters say prosecutors were biased in their investigation.