AS South Koreans take to the polling booths today amid a tight presidential race, front-running conservative candidate Park Geun-hye evoked her dictator father's economic call to arms in a bid to rally her party faithful.

She pledged in a news conference to recreate Park Chung-hee's "Let's Live well" miracle of rapid economic gains for a country that she said was labouring under heavy household debt, the high cost of raising children and poverty among old people.

The elder Park's 18-year rule from 1961 to 1979 helped transform South Korea from a war-torn backwater into an export powerhouse.

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Mr Park's daughter had earlier sought to distance herself from the divisive legacy of her father's rule that also saw political repression.

The gap between the conservative Mr Park and her left-wing challenger, Moon Jae-in, could be as little as half a percentage point, according to some polls.

"It comes down to the demographics of the voter turnout," said Hong Hyung-sik of pollster Hangil Research.

Polls show older voters are more likely to pick Ms Park while Mr Moon is reliant on more fickle younger voters.