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.

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