South Korea opposition candidate closes poll gap, pledges jobs

SEOUL Thu Dec 13, 2012 5:29am EST

1 of 8. South Korea's presidential candidate Moon Jae-in (R) of the main opposition Democratic United Party attends his campaign rally with former independent presidential candidate Ahn Cheol-soo in Daejeon December 13, 2012. The country's presidential election will be held on December 19.

Credit: Reuters/Woohae Cho

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SEOUL (Reuters) - Running a close second in opinion polls, South Korean presidential candidate Moon Jae-in announced on Thursday plans for a 20 trillion won ($18.60 billion) jobs package in a bid to close the gap six days before the election.

South Korea bans the publication of opinion polls from Thursday and Moon, the left-wing opposition challenger to conservative Park Geun-hye, was 1.5-3.5 percentage points behind, compared with a gap of up to 7.5 points a week ago.

Moon's gains came after independent candidate Ahn Cheol-soo dropped out of the running and threw his support behind Moon's bid to beat Park, the daughter of South Korea's former dictator Park Chung-hee, in the December 19 vote.

"Growth, welfare, economic democracy all start from jobs and are for the sake of jobs," Moon told reporters after announcing his plan which included a promise to raise the minimum wage and halve the number of temporary workers in the private sector.

Pollster Realmeter showed Park was polling 48 percent while Moon was on 47.5 percent, putting the gap well within the margin of error.

"The fact that there is no major third candidate in this election has made the race even more competitive," said Lee Taek Soo, head of Realmeter.

Moon's jobs package would come on top of the government's 342.5 trillion won spending plan for next year that has been submitted to parliament.

Park, in contrast, has not called for any additional spending.

The economy has been the main issue in the election campaign and a surprise rocket launch on Wednesday by rival North Korea appeared to have had little impact on voters.

A poll published by broadcaster SBS showed that just 4.2 percent of respondents said North Korea-related issues linked to the launch could influence their vote.

A separate poll by the Asan Institute think-tank showed that the launch of the rocket, which critics say is aimed at developing a long-range missile that could carry a nuclear weapon, had triggered a small rise in support for Park.

The Asan poll showed that 44.8 percent of respondents cited Park as most capable of dealing with the North while 40.6 favored Moon. ($1 = 1,075.0000 Korean won)

(Reporting By Se Young Lee and Narae Kim; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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