His Grand National party, which is striving to return to power after a decade of liberal administrations, has campaigned on boosting the economy.
 

Lee's Grand National party, which is striving to return to power after a decade in opposition to liberal administrations, has centred its campaign on a platform of boosting the economy.

 

Head to head: Lee v Chung

Lee Myung-bak, 65
(Grand National party)

 

Former Hyundai Group chief executive and ex-mayor of Seoul

 

Wants to cut red tape for businesses, make country more attractive to foreign investors and clamp down on unions

 

Pledges to take a tough line on North Korea and link aid to Pyongyang's progress on denuclearisation

 

Chung Dong-young, 54 (United New Democratic party)

 

Former television newscaster

 

Served in the current government as minister responsible for North Korea

affairs

 

Wants to increase welfare spending and use government to help make aerospace and robotics industries drivers of economy

 

Advocates steady aid to North Korea and expanding co-operation projects

Chung Dong-young, of the liberal pro-government United New Democratic party, scored between 15.7 and 17.5 per cent in the polls, while independent Lee Hoi-chang got less than 14 per cent.

 

The election will be held on December 19 and the election commission, which tightly regulates campaigning, rules that polls cannot be conducted after December 12.

 

Lee, 65, as the former top executive of the Hyundai Group, would be the country's first president with a business background at a time when the state of the economy is the key preoccupation.

 

Analysts say the top issues worrying voters are high youth unemployment, an ever-widening income gap and high prices for property and commodities.

 

Unlike previous elections, worries about relations with communist North Korea have not featured highly in voters concerns.

 

Lee has campaigned on what he calls a "747" pledge  - promising the to achieve 7 per cent annual growth compared to the average 4.4 per cent over the past decade, raising per capita income to $40,000 from last year's $18,372, and making the country's economy the world's seventh largest.

 

He has also promised to double per capita income to $40,000 and make South Korea the world's seventh largest economy by encouraging free-market forces.

 

Lee says he plans sweeping cuts in the red tape he believes is holding back the financial sector.

 

Park Sang-hyun, chief economist at CJ Investment and Securities, said "people seem to believe Lee is a man of implementation".

 

"Some may call him a neo-conservative or whatever, but ideology is not important to voters any longer," he said.