South Korean presidential candidate Ahn Cheol-soo (C) of the People's Party talks with citizens during a campaign in Seoul, South Korea, on May 7, 2017. A presidential by-election is scheduled for May 9 after former President Park Geun-hye was impeached and arrested in March over corruption allegations. (Xinhua/Lee Sang-ho)
SEOUL, May 8 (Xinhua) -- South Korea is set to hold a presidential by-election Tuesday amid escalated hopes for a new society following the impeachment of former President Park Geun-hye over corruption allegations.
The influence-peddling scandal embroiling Park brought down the conservative bloc, resulting in surging demand for the transfer of presidential power.
According to the latest poll released by local pollster Gallup Korea, Moon Jae-in of the biggest Minjoo Party was leading the other candidates in significant advantage.
Moon, a frontrunner in recent months, garnered 40 percent of support in the first week of this month. No polls conducted after last Tuesday can be announced.
Ahn Cheol-soo of the centrist People's Party, which splintered away from the Minjoo Party in early 2016, won 20 percent in support scores.
Ahn's support rate came closer to Moon's for the first two weeks of April, but it turned downward as voters were disappointed at his ambiguous stance on security issues and his negative campaigning towards Moon seen in TV debates.
The obscure stance was seen as a strategy to attract conservative votes, but it seemingly resulted in both liberal and conservative voters turning their backs away from the centrist.
Ahn was followed by Hong Joon-pyo of the former ruling Liberty Korea Party, with which the impeached Park was affiliated. Hong gained 16 percent, triggering expectations that he might have surpassed Ahn's support rate in the past week.
Hong's approval rating began to rebound in the fourth week of April as his hardline foreign and security policies, and harsh criticism of the four other major rivals successfully re-collected support from elder rightist voters.
The conservative politician's rebound seemed belated to beat Moon who has maintained a stable upward trend in approval scores since the corruption scandal emerged in October last year.
In the first half of the campaign period, public demand was strong for the drastic reform of conglomerates, called chaebol here, and for the severing of long-standing collusive ties between chabol families and politicians.
The super-high unemployment rate among youths led the younger generation to complain that they are living a hell-like life, while the encouragement of irregular workers under conservative presidents for the past nine years widened an income inequality.
The record-breaking household debts were said to be caused by the conservative governments encouraging households to purchase new homes with borrowed money amid the record-low interest rates. It weighed down on consumption amid the widening income gap.
The election mood changed in the second half of the campaign period. A talking point turned into security issues amid rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
Tensions on the peninsula tended to lead frightened voters to pick conservative candidates in the past elections.
A U.S. aircraft carrier and warships were recently dispatched to the region, sparking worries here about a possible U.S. strike against nuclear facilities of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).
The public mood was reversed as U.S. President Donald Trump recently said he would be "honored" to meet top DPRK leader Kim Jong Un under the right circumstances.
Conservatives tended to denounce liberal presidential candidates advocating a conciliatory approach to the DPRK as leftist, blind follower of the DPRK, but they no longer criticized the approach as Trump indicated a dialogue for the denuclearized Korean Peninsula.
The election is estimated to have a high voting rate, which is beneficial to liberals. An early voting system was first applied to this year's presidential election, encouraging over a quarter of South Korean voters to cast ballots in advance.
The early voting rate reached a whopping 26.06 percent. The higher the voting rate is, the more advantageous it is to the liberal bloc as seen in the past elections.
The voting hours will be expanded by two more hours compared with the 2012 presidential election. The voting will be conducted from 6:00 a.m. local time (2100 GMT Monday) to 8:00 p.m. local time (1100 GMT) on Tuesday.