Liberal claims victory in South Korean election
Moon Jae-in favours closer ties with North Korea
SEOUL, KOREA, REPUBLIC OF — Moon Jae-in declared victory in South Korea’s presidential election Tuesday after his two main rivals conceded, capping one of the most turbulent political stretches in the nation’s recent history and setting up its first liberal rule in a decade.
Moon, a liberal former human rights lawyer who was jailed as a student by a previous dictatorship, favours closer ties with North Korea, saying hard-line conservative governments did nothing to prevent the North’s development of nuclear-armed missiles and only reduced South Korea’s voice in international efforts to counter North Korea.
This softer approach might put him at odds with South Korea’s biggest ally, the United States. The Trump administration has swung between threats and praise for North Korea’s leader.
Moon, the child of refugees who fled North Korea during the Korean War, will lead a nation shaken by a scandal that felled his conservative predecessor, Park Geunhye, who sits in a jail cell awaiting a corruption trial later this month.
Moon smiled and waved his hands above his head as supporters chanted his name at Gwanghwamun square in central Seoul, where millions of Koreans had gathered for months starting late last year in peaceful protests that eventually toppled Park. “It’s a great victory by a great people,” Moon told the crowd. “I’ll gather all of my energy to build a new nation.”
Tuesday’s election saw strong turnout — about 77 per cent of 42.5 million eligible voters. Moon had a relatively low share of the total vote — 41.4 per cent according to an exit poll — but there were many more major candidates than in 2012, when Park won 51.5 per cent, beating Moon by about a million votes.
Over the last six months, millions gathered in protest after corruption allegations surfaced against Park, who was then impeached by parliament, formally removed from office by a court and arrested and indicted by prosecutors.
Moon’s two biggest rivals, conservative Hong Joon-pyo and centrist Ahn Cheol-soo, were expected to garner 23.3 per cent and 21.8 per cent, respectively, according to the exit poll.
Moon will be officially sworn in as South Korea’s new president after the election commission finishes the vote count and declares the winner Wednesday morning. This forgoes the usual two-month transition because Tuesday’s vote was a byelection to choose a successor to Park, whose term was to end in February 2018.
Moon will still serve out the typical single five-year term.
Moon was chief of staff for the last liberal president, the late Roh Moo-hyun, who sought closer ties with North Korea by setting up large-scale aid shipments to the North and by working on now-stalled joint economic projects.
Hong, the conservative, is an outspoken former provincial governor who pitched himself as a “strongman,” described the election as a war between ideologies and questioned Moon’s patriotism.
Park’s trial later this month on bribery, extortion and other corruption charges could send her to jail for life if she is convicted.
Many analysts say Moon likely won’t pursue drastic rapprochement policies because North Korea’s nuclear program has progressed significantly since he was in the Roh government a decade ago.
Moon Jae-in, the president-elect, greets supporters after his victory was confirmed on the presidential election on Tuesday in Seoul, South Korea.