South Gyeongsang Province Gov. Hong Joon-pyo on Friday clinched the presidential nomination of the conservative Liberty Korea Party for the May 9 election, bracing for an uphill battle against powerful liberal rivals.
The former ruling party announced its flag-bearer during a national convention in Seoul based on the combined results of a vote by full-time party members and opinion polls conducted for the past week.
The 62-year-old former prosecutor secured 54.15 percent, beating Rep. Kim Jin-tae, a close ally of ousted President Park Geun-hye; party veteran Rhee In-je; and North Gyeongsang Province Gov. Kim Kwan-yong in the nomination race.
"Now, our country needs a resolute strongman," Hong said, referring to the regional geopolitical landscape marked by strong leaders, such as U.S. President Donald Trump, Russian leader Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
"With your power, I will become a confident president, and quickly stabilize the nation and make the Republic of Korea an affluent country," he added.
During the acceptance speech, Hong also said he would seek to unify conservative forces, take a hard-line stance against a nuclear North Korea and enhance ordinary citizens' livelihoods.
In particular, Hong said that if elected president, he would seek negotiations with the United States to redeploy its tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea and enable Seoul to share control of the nuclear arms in the same way Washington and several NATO member nations have done.
Hong also vowed to prioritize creating a business-friendly environment, accusing "leftists" of hindering corporate activities and undermining free market principles enshrined in the country's Constitution.
Hong's win came as the election landscape is seen heavily weighted in favor of the liberal bloc in the wake of a massive corruption scandal involving Park and her longtime confidante Choi Soon-sil.
Hong now faces the daunting tasks of uniting his party after the bitter nomination contest and forging an alliance with other rightist, or even centrist, political forces, to fight against front-runner Moon Jae-in, a former leader of the largest Democratic Party, observers said.
In various recent opinion polls, Moon has maintained an unrivaled lead for over a dozen weeks, with his support rating hovering at over 30 percent. Hong has ranked fifth in the polls with his rating at less than 10 percent.
Earlier this month, Hong unveiled a set of campaign pledges, vowing to strengthen national defense, enhance social welfare, strengthen communication with opposition parties and reform the prosecution, which critics say is "politically minded."
On the defense front, Hong pledged to create a marine special warfare unit to counter threats from North Korea's special commandos, adopt a proactive defense strategy and employ cutting-edge technologies, such as artificial intelligence and robots, to enhance combat capabilities.
His welfare policy focuses on benefiting low-income brackets more. For instance, he vowed to increase government child care support for low-earning families up to two times and withhold support for the top income earners.
Hong's plan to reform the prosecution aims to give more power to police with a new authority to seek arrest warrants against suspects. Police are currently under the strict supervision of prosecutors with no right to lead any independent investigations.
To enhance cooperation with parliament, Hong pledged to appoint an opposition figure as minister for political affairs. (Yonhap)