01/27/2022, 13.23
SOUTH KOREA
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Court in Seoul rules against only two candidates in presidential election debates

by Guido Alberto Casanova

As the campaign to replace Moon Jae-in on 9 March gets in full swing, TV broadcasters told they cannot restrict debates to representatives of the two main parties. Meanwhile, Yoon Seok-youl, of the conservative People Power Party, is leading in the polls over the ruling Democratic Party’s Lee Yae-myung.

Seoul (AsiaNews) – A court in Seoul ruled yesterday that South Korea’s three main TV networks cannot restrict the debate for the 9 March presidential election to candidates from the two main parties, Lee Jae-myung for the ruling Democratic Party and Yoon Seok-youl for the conservative People Power Party.

Although broadcasters can choose the criteria for selecting who should be invited, the court stressed that television debates are fundamental in electoral campaigns and allow voters to get information and compare the various candidates.

“The broadcasters in this case stepped out of the limit at their discretion, as it is difficult to accept their justification (for excluding other candidates),” the court said.

The sentence came after Ahn Cheol-soo, the candidate for the centrist People Party and currently third in the polls, filed an injunction last week against broadcasting the debate.

According to Ahn, a two-party debate would give the public the false impression that the elections have only two candidates.

The centrist candidate slammed the two major parties and accused them of bad faith for accepting to take part in a national televised debate with only their candidates this weekend, just before the Korean Lunar New Year when families get together.

The court decision comes against a backdrop of an extremely eventful but very uninspiring election campaign for South Korean voters.

Six weeks before the vote, neither of the two frontrunners seems to have managed to stir voters’ interest and their constant personal attacks have affected both Yoon and Lee , diverting  attention from their election platforms.

Earlier this month, as Yoon's campaign was shaken by divisions and rivalries within the conservative camp, polls showed that Ahn’s star as alternative candidate was on the rise.

Some pundits began speculating about the possibility that the two opposition parties might opt for a single candidate.

However, in the past 10 days, voting intentions have begun to shift. According to a survey cited by Yonhap News, after settling internal divisions, Yoon regained support (42 per cent), pulling ahead of the Democratic candidate (36.8 per cent) whilst Ahn dropped to 10 per cent.

Thanks to these latest figures, the People Power Party felt they were on a winning streak and its president rejected calls for a single conservative candidacy.

The televised debate was supposed to seal the dominance of the two major parties in public opinion by excluding the other candidates, but the court ruling partially reopens the game.

Yoon and Lee, who were hoping for their tête-à-tête to consolidate their momentum or reverse the trend, will now have to contend with Ahn Cheol-soo and Sim Sang-jung, who is running for the left-wing Justice Party.

Obviously, both of these candidates will not miss the opportunity to go after the conservative and democratic frontrunners, highlighting their many vulnerabilities.

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