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Dictator's daughter leading polls ahead of South Korean election

Conservative candidate Park Geun-hye holds the slight edge ahead of an election Wednesday that could affect relations with North Korea.

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South Korean presidential candidate Park Geun-hye of the ruling Saenuri Party waves to supporters during her election campaign rally in Hwaseong, south of Seoul, South Korea, Monday, Dec. 17, 2012.

Kim Ju-sung, Yonhap/AP

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The voices of party followers blare over loudspeakers from public squares shouting out the slogans of opposing sides in a presidential contest that could have a deep effect on South Korea's relations with North Korea and its alliance with the US.

Rows of placard-carrying men and women wearing red coats and sweaters preach the need for a strong conservative president who will stand up against North Korea and lead the country out of economic difficulties.

Their standard-bearer, Park Geun-hye, the daughter of South Korea’s long-ruling dictatorial Park Chung-hee, is believed to hold a slight edge in the presidential election Wednesday.

She faces a tough challenge from the liberal Moon Jae-in, a candidate of the opposition Democratic United Party. A human rights lawyer, Mr. Moon promises to stop the rich from getting richer and more powerful.

Several hundred feet away, demonstrators dressed in yellow carry placards telling voters to “change the future” by voting for Moon. They are campaigning to reverse the deeply conservative pattern of the presidency of Lee Myung-bak, elected five years ago in a massive reaction against a decade of liberal leadership.

"Who gets elected will have an influence on the balance of policy," says Hahm Chai-bong, president of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies here. "It would make a pretty big difference if Moon were elected and started improving engagement policy toward North Korea."

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