Concessions pave way for new South Korea leader

Author

10 May, 2017

Moon Jae-in, a liberal candidate, won the election, ending the reign of the conservatives and setting the stage for major shifts in South Korean policy.

Moon's stance on North Korea could put him at odds with US President Donald Trump, who has stressed that he could take military action to halt the isolated nation's nuclear ambitions.

Presidential candidates Moon Jae-in and Ahn Cheol-soo are among the millions voting in South Korea's Presidential election on Tuesday.

They gave Mr Moon, of the Democratic Party, who backs engagement with the North, 41.4 per cent support, according to the joint survey by three television stations.

Moon, who ran unsuccessfully for the presidency in 2012 against Park Geun-hye, previously served as Chief Secretary to the late liberal president Roh Moo-hyun and has been seen as a leading contender since a year ago.

Mr Hong said the election was a "war of regime choices between people, whether they decide to accept a North Korea-sympathising leftist government or a government that can protect the liberty of the Republic of Korea", South Korea's formal name.

Hong, an outspoken former provincial governor who pitched himself as a "strongman", described the election as a war between ideologies and questioned Moon's patriotism.

On the campaign trail he has been a vociferous defender of the "Sunshine" policies of former Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh, pledging to re-open and expand the Kaesong Industrial Complex and saying he would visit Pyongyang before he visited the U.S. Moon secured 10,659,059, or 40.0 percent out of the 32,808,577 votes as of 2:10 a.m. on Wednesday with 81.5 percent of the votes counted.

Voting stations are set to close at 8 p.m. and South Korean TV stations plan to release the results of their joint exit polls soon after the vote ends and are expected to predict a victor before midnight. They are expected to predict a victor before midnight.

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The local election watchdog has forecast a turnout of more than 80 percent among the nation's biggest ever electorate of almost 42.5 million eligible voters.

The victor is expected to be sworn in on Wednesday, after the Election Commission releases the official result.

This forgoes the usual two-month transition because the vote was a by-election to choose a successor to Geun-hye, whose term was to originally end in February 2018.

Despite what the election numbers suggest, Moon may actually have stronger political support because of widespread dissatisfaction with conservative rule, said John Delury, a professor at Seoul's Yonsei University.

Kim Sun-Chul, 59, said he voted for Moon because "this country needs to restore democracy which has been so undermined by the Park government". But Washington is anxious his moderate stance could undercut efforts to increase pressure and sanctions, senior South Korean officials said.

During the campaign, Moon promised to address the systemic problems that led to Park's impeachment, creating expectations that will define his administration. "This is not the time to keep our eyes just on domestic issues - we need to think about the nation's long-term future and peace". She has been indicted on bribery, extortion and other corruption charges, which could see her jailed for life.

The allegations incensed many in South Korea, with millions taking to the streets in protest. Many of his supporters participated in big, peaceful weekend rallies over the last few months of 2016 and early this year, demanding Park step down.

Park is in custody awaiting trial over corruption for offering governmental favours to top businessmen - including Samsung heir Lee Jae-Yong - who allegedly bribed her secret confidante, Choi Soon-Sil.

He called for reforms to clean up social inequalities, excessive presidential power and corrupt ties between politicians and businesses. Many of those legacies dated to the dictatorship of Park's father, Park Chung-hee, whose 18-year rule was marked by both rapid economic rise and severe civil rights abuse.


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