By Kim Sue-young
With less than a month to go before the presidential election, the contenders are divided into two groups, major leaguers and minor competitors.
Lee Myung-bak of the Grand National Party (GNP) is leading the race with about 38-40 percent support. Chung Dong-young of the United New Democratic Party (UNDP) and independent Lee Hoi-chang are engaged in a neck-and-neck contest with 15-20 percent.
Minor candidates, however, have received little spotlight or are considered as a mere partner to leverage a major candidate's victory in the Dec. 19 election.
They suffer from stagnant single digit approval ratings in most opinion surveys.
According to the Chosun Ilbo, Moon Kook-hyun of the Creative Korea Party (CKP) has 6.6 percent support, followed by Kwon Young-ghil of the Democratic Labor Party (DLP) and Rhee In-je of the Democratic Party (DP) with two percent and 1.7 percent, respectively.
People First Party nominee Shim Dae-pyung has a mere 0.3 percent.
The combined approval ratings of all the four minor leaguers is far behind frontrunner Lee's 38.7 percent.
Compared to those of Lee Hoi-chang and Chung Dong-young, the figures are seemingly insignificant.
Despite the handicap, the minor contenders are busy promoting their merits and campaign pledges to solicit public support.
Moon Kook-hyun, former business executive
of the Creative Korea Party
Although Moon is showing little progress he still appeals to some his long-time business executive image.
Moon was promoted to CEO of staple product maker Yuhan-Kimberly 20 years after entering the company as a rank-and-file employee in 1974.
According to reports, he performed well in steering the company for 12 years.
He also devoted himself to social movements such as anti-corruption and environment protection campaigns.
This has given him a reputation of being more clean-handed than other politicians who have often become the talk of the town due to being associated with bribery scandals and unlawful activity.
For voters and political parties who are looking for a new face, Moon may meet the requirements.
In opinion polls, he was the most favored pro-government candidate, with even Chung Dong-young falling far behind him.
The UNDP and Chung have proposed that they merge with Moon, but he has chosen to take a separate path.
However, his lack of experience in politics invites concern regarding his ability to deliver the goods as president.
He created the CKP on Oct. 30 but his support base is still weak as the party only has one seat in the 299-member National Assembly.
Moon has presented four major campaign pledges _ to offer life-long education, nurture small and medium companies, create a new growth engine through inter-Korean economic cooperation and build a transparent society.
Rhee In-je, veteran politician
This year's presidential election is Rhee's third attempt to take the seat.
The four-term lawmaker unsuccessfully ran in the 1997 election as standard-bearer of his own party and was defeated by incumbent President Roh Moo-hyun in the primary race of the now-defunct New Millennium Democratic Party, predecessor of the DP, in 2002.
Although Rhee's long-time political career has raised his public recognition, he is considered unfaithful because twice he deserted his party after losing in the primaries.
Rhee, who was born in Nonsan in South Chungcheong Province, reportedly has the support of residents in his hometown area.
He has suggested in his campaign pledges a reformation of the tax system, construction of a new economic cluster and that he would support the middle-income bracket.
He also supports Constitutional reform to introduce a four-year, double-term presidency.
The minority party's nominee may have a chance against the largest party as his party and the UNDP have agreed on a unified candidacy. The UNDP has 140 seats in the Assembly, while the DP has only eight.
However, a dispute over power sharing has hindered a merger negotiation between the two sides.
Kwon Young-ghil, representative liberal
Of the minor candidates, Kwon of the DLP is the most liberal. Due to his political leanings, he is supported by laborers and university students.
He pledged to provide free medical service, education and affordable housing if elected president.
He also vowed to achieve an annual economic growth of five percent and increase per capita income by seven percent.
However, it remains uncertain whether he can garner support from a wider variety of people.
When he ran for the 2002 presidential election, he received only 3.9 percent of the vote.
Roh won the race with 48.9 percent followed by Lee Hoi-chang with 46.6 percent.
The UNDP candidate Chung offered to seek a unified candidacy with Kwon as well, but Kwon rejected the proposal saying he will follow his principles.
Sim Dae-pyung, Chungcheong-based politician
Sim currently has the lowest support in most opinion polls.
However, along with Rhee, he is gaining large support in the Chungcheong Provinces because he served there as governor twice, in 1988 and 1995.
Although he has little influence alone, he can leverage independent Lee's victory in the presidential race.
Before Lee made his third presidential bid, rumors had it that he sought an alliance with Shim to supplement his weak spot, the Chungcheong region.
The conservative independent is widely supported by residents in southeastern Gyeongsang Provinces.
They have yet to propel a merger negotiation but their alliance would boost Lee's support, election experts said.
Despite the four minor candidates' efforts to promote their campaign pledges, they are struggling with rock-bottom support levels.
According to political observers, as long as no dramatic reversals take place, the minor candidates will likely remain as assistants for major candidates.