Yoon Seok-youl gets a boost as conservatives unite in South Korean election

Minor South Korean presidential candidate Ahn Cheol-soo halted his campaign and threw his support to the main conservative candidate Yoon Seok-youl, a move that could increase the chances of the right-leaning bloc winning next week’s election.

The race for the March 9 election has been neck-and-neck between Yoon of the People Power Party and progressive Lee Jae-myung of the ruling Democratic Party. Final polls published Wednesday showed them both in the 40% range, with Yoon slightly ahead and conservative Ahn at about 10%.

“We’ve decided to come together for the change of presidential power,” Ahn said Thursday at a news conference alongside Yoon. “We are now in the same boat.”

In the last nationally televised debate Wednesday, Lee slammed Yoon for his plan to shut down the country’s ministry of gender equality. Yoon has said the ministry is not needed but South Korea has one of the largest gender-based wage gaps in the developed world, with males earning 1.6 times more than their female colleagues in 2020, according to a government survey released September last year.

Polls have offered varying assessments of who is leading the contest. According to a regular tracking poll from Realmeter released Wednesday, 46.3% of respondents favored Yoon and 43.1% supported Lee. Wednesday was also the last day for the release of polls, with the country banning any new surveys coming out in the final days before the election.

One factor that may benefit Yoon is that about 54% of voters want a change of power from the progressives, according a survey by Korea Information Research released last Wednesday. The poll also said only 37.4% wanted incumbent Moon Jae-in’s Democratic Party to stay in the presidential Blue House.

There are six days to go before election day, with two days of early voting start Friday. The winner of the single-round, nationwide poll becomes the next president and will serve a single, five-year term. The new leader will be sworn in on May 10.

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