The rival parties ratcheted up their campaigns in fiercely contested districts in Seoul and South Gyeongsang Province, Monday, eight days ahead of the April 13 general election.
Ruling Saenuri Party Chairman Kim Moo-sung stumped in South Gyeongsang Province, following a visit to Busan, Sunday. The two-day campaign reflects his uneasiness about dwindling support in the conservative party's traditional home turf, observers said.
Kim Chong-in, interim leader of the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea (MPK), hit the campaign trail in Gyeonggi Province where 60 of 253 electoral seats are up for grabs.
The MPK views divisions within the opposition bloc as disadvantageous to the party in the metropolitan and capital area. Although it secured 25 seats in the previous election, recent polls show its candidates lead in only 20 districts while the Saenuri Party's candidates are ahead in 28.
Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo, co-chairman of the People's Party, made all-out efforts in Seoul, redirecting his focus from Gwangju, and North and South Jeolla provinces, Korea's traditional left-wing stronghold.
The minority opposition party is seeking to expand the scope of its popularity which is condensed to the southwestern region.
Worries are prevalent that the party could secure no seats in the metropolitan area and remain a Jeolla-based regional party, according to party officials. Its candidates suffer from weak standings in Seoul and Gyeonggi Province, except for Ahn running in the Nowon-C district of the capital.
Kim Moo-sung stumped for candidates trailing opposition candidates in the Changwon-Seongsan and Gimhae districts, criticizing the MPK interim leader. "The so-called economic democratization is nothing but rhetoric without substantial benefit for the public," he said. "To truly improve the regional economy and create jobs, Saenuri Party candidates should be elected."
Saenuri Party candidate Lee Man-ki, a former ssireum (Korean wrestling) champion, is losing ground to the MPK's Kim Kyung-soo, a former secretary of the late President Roh Moo-hyun in Gimhae.
Rep. Kang Gi-yun of the Saenuri Party is also losing to the Justice Party's Roh Hoe-chan, who gained momentum after his opposition rival Huh Sung-moo dropped out of the race, according to polls.
With the Saenuri Party's survey showing that eight out of 65 seats could be snatched by the opposition parties in its home turf, Kim appeared to be seeking more attention from traditional voters.
"We won't lose our pride in the region, putting our utmost efforts to secure the area from Changwon and Busan to Ulsan," he said.
Meanwhile, Kim Chong-in went to Yongin and Suwon, launching an offensive against the ruling party.
"The election should be a judgment against the Park Geun-hye administration that has failed with the economy for the past eight years alongside the previous conservative government," he said.
The MPK had aimed its offensive against the People's Party, urging it to put single candidates together. But after that scenario failed, the party is expected to frame the election as a head-to-head competition between the MPK and the ruling party.
Rep. Ahn reiterated his opposition to an alliance, saying "I highly doubt putting a single candidate with the MPK will have a positive impact."
A recent poll showed that the approval rating of the ruling Saenuri Party has fallen for three consecutive weeks, while those of the opposition parties have risen.
In a March 28 to April 1 Realmeter poll, the Saenuri Party was favored by 37.1 percent of 2,528 respondents, a 1.2 percentage-points decrease from the previous week.
In contrast, the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea (MPK) and the minority opposition People's Party rose by 1.3 and 0.8 percentage points to 26.2 percent and 14.8 percent, respectively.
The local pollster said the fall in the Saenuri Party's support was evident in its home turf — Daegu, Busan and North and South Gyeongsang and Chungcheong provinces.
It suggested that it was caused by a recent controversy over President Park Geun-hye's portrait and intensified criticism by the opposition bloc of the Park administration's economic policy failures.
The party was involved in further factional strife last week, after loyalists to Park requested independent lawmakers running in Daegu — Reps. Yoo Seong-min, Kwon Eun-hee, Yoo Sung-kull and Joo Ho-young — to return portraits of the President hanging in their offices.
The four lawmakers quit the party in late March following a controversy over nominations, controlled by Park's loyalists, calling it political revenge against those who weren't close followers of the President.