Op­po­si­tion leader takes early lead in election

Nar­rowly lost to Park in 2012 race

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY HYUNG-JIN KIM

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA | A lib­eral South Korean op­po­si­tion leader who wants to im­prove ties with a hos­tile North Korea and pur­sue sweep­ing re­forms be­came his party’s pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Mon­day, boost­ing his sta­tus as front-run­ner in next month’s election of a suc­ces­sor to re­cently ousted Pres­i­dent Park Geun-hye.

If Moon Jae-in is elected, it would end nearly a decade of con­ser­va­tive rule in South Korea, dur­ing which ties with Py­ongyang have plunged to one of the low­est points in decades due to the North’s nu­clear and mis­sile tests and the South’s re­sponse. An­a­lysts say Mr. Moon’s softer ap­proach to­ward North Korea could pro­duce dis­cord with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Mr. Moon’s pop­u­lar­ity has surged since last fall, when a high-pro­file cor­rup­tion scan­dal in­volv­ing Ms. Park and a con­fi­dante flared. Mil­lions took to the streets and called for the pres­i­dent’s ouster, lead­ing par­lia­ment to im­peach her in De­cem­ber and the Con­sti­tu­tional Court to for­mally end her rule in March. Pros­e­cu­tors ar­rested and jailed Ms. Park last week.

Mr. Moon, who lost a close election to Ms. Park in 2012, re­ceived a sec­ond chance to run for the pres­i­dency by win­ning the Demo­cratic Party’s nom­i­na­tion in party vot­ing that ended Mon­day. In a vic­tory speech, the 64-year-old lawyer said if elected he would try to erad­i­cate cor­rup­tion, heal a deep­en­ing con­ser­va­tive-lib­eral di­vide and strengthen na­tional se­cu­rity.

“I de­clare that we must bring an end to an era of con­flict and di­vi­sion,” he said. “I will lead the coun­try to­ward jus­tice and unity and away from this era of strife.”

Mr. Moon didn’t dis­cuss the North Korean cri­sis. But he has pre­vi­ously called Ms. Park’s hard-line North Korea pol­icy a fail­ure, say­ing it’s time to use both sanc­tions and di­a­logue to per­suade the North to re­sume ne­go­ti­a­tions on end­ing its nu­clear and mis­sile pro­grams. He has also been highly crit­i­cal of Ms. Park’s de­ci­sion to let the United States in­stall a high-tech mis­sile de­fense sys­tem in South Korea that has an­gered both North Korea and China.

Ms. Moon’s stance could trig­ger “a cer­tain level of fric­tion or dis­cord” with Mr. Trump, who has sig­naled a tougher stance to­ward North Korea, said Lim Eul Chul, a North Korea ex­pert at South Korea’s Kyung­nam Univer­sity. But Mr. Lim said Mr. Moon isn’t likely to take any dras­tic rec­on­cil­i­a­tion mea­sures be­cause North Korea “has gone too far” in its nu­clear pro­gram in re­cent years.

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