Opposition leader takes early lead in election
Narrowly lost to Park in 2012 race
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.