By Jun Ji-hye
Campaigning for the 2017 presidential election has begun — unofficially — after former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, one of the two prominent possible presidential hopefuls, returned home Thursday.
While Ban is being cited as a leading conservative candidate, other hopefuls from the both conservative and liberal parties are already making various moves to woo voters.
Among them, Moon Jae-in, the former chairman of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea (DPK), visited North Chungcheong Province just a day before Ban's return in an apparent bid to get ahead of him.
Chungcheong Province, site of the hometown of the ex-U.N. chief, has been regarded as holding the casting vote in previous elections.
"The Chungcheong region has affected the fate of previous presidential elections," Moon told reporters. "The late Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun were able to become heads of state thanks to their victory in this region. I also want to be picked by voters here."
Moon denied that he was visiting the region just before Ban's return to get a lead on him, saying, "There was no special reason for me to come here today. I just came here because this region is important."
But Moon, at the same time, suggested a tempting pledge to residents there, vowing to move the National Assembly and Cheong Wa Dae, currently in Seoul, to Sejong in South Chungcheong Province.
Moon, who served as chief of staff in the Roh Moo-hyun government, appears to be outpacing the career diplomat in the latest opinion poll of potential presidential contenders released by pollster Realmeter, Thursday.
He posted support of 27.9 percent this week up 1.1 percentage points week-on-week, followed by Ban with 20.3 percent and Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung with 11.3 percent.
Ban's popularity fell 1.2 percentage points after his brother and nephew were recently indicted on bribery charges in New York, the pollster said.
For his part, Ban is also expected to make strategic moves in earnest to turn the tables following his return after completing two terms at the U.N.
His supporters said Ban is planning to visit Bongha Village in South Gyeongsang Province, the hometown of former President Roh Moo-hyun, Jan. 18.
Ban was elected as U.N. chief during Roh's 2003-2008 term while serving as foreign minister. The opposition parties criticized him for not attending Roh's funeral and not visiting his grave in the village after he committed suicide in 2009. At the time, critics claimed that Ban did not do so to gain favor with the then incumbent conservative government.
Ban is also planning to visit Busan, the former constituency of Moon Jae-in when he was a lawmaker, in what is seen as a bid to win support there.
He is considering officially announcing his presidential bid and his vision, Jan. 26, his supporters said.
Other places Ban plans to visit include Paengmok Port in Jindo, South Jeolla Province, near to the site of the 2014 Sewol ferry disaster.
Sources say Ban is focusing on stressing that he is a figure who will achieve unity, while Moon is being cited as an opposition leader.
Meanwhile, Rep. Yoo Seong-min and Gyeonggi Province Gov. Nam Kyung-pil of Bareun Jeongdang, the new conservative party that broke away from the ruling Saenuri Party, said they will announce their presidential bids, Jan. 25.
The election could take place in the first half of the year instead of December if the Constitutional Court delivers a guilty verdict on President Park Guen-hye's impeachment. Should this happen, the country has to elect a new leader within 60 days.