Centre-left candidate set for clear win in South Korean election

Moon Jae-in to become new president after poll held in wake of corruption scandal

Moon Jae-in  celebrates with supporters  in Seoul on Tuesday as he watches a television report on an exit poll suggesting he has won South Korea’s presidential election. Photograph: Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

Moon Jae-in celebrates with supporters in Seoul on Tuesday as he watches a television report on an exit poll suggesting he has won South Korea’s presidential election. Photograph: Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

 

Moon Jae-in was poised to become South Korea’s next president as exit polls showed the centre-left candidate securing a strong majority in the election which has been overshadowed by North Korea’s increasing militarism.

Mr Moon (64), who stood on a platform of public sector job creation and has called for dialogue with North Korea and reform of the country’s powerful family-run conglomerates, was estimated to have garnered 41.4 per cent of all votes, according to the exit poll conducted by three major local broadcasters – MBC, KBS and SBS.

He was followed by Hong Joon-pyo of the conservative Liberty Korea Party with 23.3 per cent, the Yonhap news agency reported.

Voter turnout was around 77 per cent, the highest in 20 years but shy of the 80 per cent level expected, partially due to rainfall in the South Korean capital.

South Korea is moving on from a corruption scandal that brought down former conservative president Park Geun-hye and the current focus of debate is on resolving nuclear tensions with North Korea.

There were 13 candidates standing, but the race finally boiled down to five key candidates. “I gave all my body and soul [to the election] to the very end,” Mr Moon told reporters after he cast his vote.

After voting, Mr Moon went for a hike with his wife and sat on a large rock on a mountain near their home in north-western Seoul.

A former special forces soldier and human rights lawyer, Mr Moon was top adviser to Roh Moo-hyun, the late president who tried to build bridges with North Korea by supplying aid and boosting economic ties.

Park Geun-hye was impeached and removed from office on bribery, extortion and other corruption charges. Her trial takes place this month and she could send her to jail for life if she is convicted.

Scandal

Millions of Koreans took to the streets to protest against her administration. Mr Moon lost the last election against Ms Park but he is expected to benefit from the fallout from the scandal.

Bup Hae, a Buddhist monk voting in Chungmuro district said he voted for Mr Moon because he hoped that there would be a more equal society in South Korea.

“I voted for the person who, when they are administering North-South relations or Korea-US or Korea-China relations, they would be able to effect at least a little change,” said Mr Hae.

“Aside from Buddhism, we have Catholicism and Christianity and everything, but the issue is that religion is not about individuals, it’s become about powerbases so that religious people would, for instance, vote for the now defunct Saenuri party, or so on. But as for me, ever since I was a college student, I always wanted a more equal world,” he said.

“There were candidates from more progressive parties, but I didn’t think they had the potential to make it into office. So as a second-best resort, I voted for Moon Jae-in,” he said.

Oh Se-wang, who owns an insurance business, said he wanted to voted for someone who would benefit his employees. “Last time I voted for Park Geun-hye,” he said, laughing with embarrassment. “I think it was a mistake. I didn’t know what kind of person she was when I voted for her.”

The winner was due to be sworn in on Wednesday after the NEC releases the official result.