Park’s father is both an asset and a soft spot. Many older South Koreans revere his strict economic policies and tough line against North Korea. But he’s also loathed for his odious treatment of opponents, including claims of torture and snap executions.
‘‘Nostalgia for Park Chung-hee still runs deep in our society, particularly in the older generation,’’ Chung said.
A Park win would mean that South Korean voters believe she would evoke her father’s strong charisma as president and settle the country’s economic and security woes, Chung said.
Moon, on the other hand, was a young opponent of Park Chung-hee. Before working for Roh, whom Lee replaced in 2008, Moon was a human rights lawyer. He also spent time in jail for challenging Park’s government.
Moon’s parents lived in the North Korean port city of Hungnam before fleeing to South Korea aboard a U.S. military ship in daring evacuation operations in December 1950, six months after the Korean War broke out.
Moon’s parents lived in an interim shelter on South Korea’s southeastern Geoje Island and later moved to a nearby village where Moon was born in 1953. Moon’s father did manual labor at the camp while his mother peddled eggs.
A Moon win would be a clear judgment against the Lee government, said Hahm Sung Deuk, a political scientist at Korea University in Seoul. Moon’s appeal is that he ‘‘appears to be nice, honest and clean.’’
Moon has been aided by Ahn Cheol-soo, a medical doctor-turned-software mogul who led Park in hypothetical two-way polls before he dropped out of the race last month. Ahn, who does not belong to any party, has thrown his support behind Moon since withdrawal.
With South Korea’s economy facing a 2 to 3 percent annual growth rate for this year and the next, the presidential candidates have focused on welfare and equality and fairness issues. Both candidates promise to crack down on wrongdoings of family-controlled industrial conglomerates, known as chaebols. Neither, however, has matched Lee’s campaign promise to boost South Korea’s economy by an ambitious 7 percent growth annually, apparently aware of the global economic challenges that beset the country’s export-driven economy.
Economic worries may be the focus of many voters, but North Korea forced itself as an issue in the closing days of campaigning with its rocket launch last week, which put a satellite into orbit.
The launch won’t be a major election influence, but it will consolidate conservative votes in favor of Park, said Hahm. He said the launch will remind South Korean voters that ‘‘the North Koreans are unpredictable and belligerent.’’
AP writers Foster Klug and Youkyung Lee contributed to this story.