By Kim Hyo-jin
Top presidential contender Moon Jae-in is maintaining a strong lead despite disputes over his recent recruitment of conservatives as campaigners and his alleged wavering on security-related issues, according to the latest poll, released Monday.
A Realmeter poll, conducted from March 15 to 17, showed Moon's approval rating increased by 1.5 percentage points from the previous week to 36.6 percent. The former leader of the Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) led polls for the 11th consecutive week.
He was trailed by South Chungcheong Province Governor An Hee-jung, another contender from the DPK, with 15.6 percent and ex-leader of the People's Party Ahn Cheol-soo with 12 percent. Their approval ratings also increased by 1.5 and 1.8 percentage points, respectively, from the previous week.
Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung, also from the DPK, came next with 10.8 percent while South Gyeongsang Province Governor Hong Joon-pyo was the most popular conservative hopeful garnering 9.8 percent. Hong has emerged as the strongest contender to win the primary of the Liberty Korea Party (LKP) since Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn decided not to run for the presidency on March 15.
Hong's rating notably jumped by 3.6 percent from the previous week.
Hong survived the former ruling party's first round run-off vote with five other competitors among nine presidential contenders, Sunday, with an overwhelming 46 percent support from party members and ordinary citizens.
Showing confidence in his future, Hong wrote on his Facebook page Monday that the presidential race will become a two-way competition between him and Moon.
The second-largest party, the LKP, will select its presidential candidate at its national convention on March 31 and the third largest, the People's Party, on April 4. The largest, the DPK, is scheduled to elect its candidate by April 3. If a contender fails to secure a majority of votes, there will be a run-off vote for the top two contenders on April 8 to choose its candidate.