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Miss Park acknowledges the problems of such firms, which were encouraged during her father’s rule, but she has resisted calls for change.

Regarding North Korea, both candidates have distanced themselves from incumbent President Lee Myung-bak’s policy of withholding contact and humanitarian aid until Pyongyang halts its nuclear programs. Mr. Moon has said he wishes to hold an inter-Korean summit and restart unconditional economic contacts with the North. Miss Park favors increased economic ties.

Miss Park is seen as strongly pro-American and, unlike Mr. Moon, speaks fluent English.

Mr. Moon has said he would practice what he calls “balanced diplomacy” toward the United States and China.

The United States is South Korea’s major strategic ally with 28,000 troops in country, but China has overtaken America as Korea’s largest trading partner. China is also believed to be a restraining force on North Korea.

Although Miss Park once met now-deceased North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il, Pyongyang state media has lambasted her and her “traitorous” party. Given North Korean preference for Mr. Moon’s opposition party, pundits say Wednesday’s rocket launch may have been aimed at undercutting Miss Park’s popularity.

“Twenty or 30 years ago, when North Korea committed military provocations before elections, it gave help to the conservative side, but that is no longer true,” said Kim Tae-woo, an independent analyst on North Korean strategic issues.

“Now that they have nuclear devices, an increasing number of South Koreans believe we need a government that can reconcile with North Korea.”