Liberal Moon Jae-in has declared victory in South Korea’s presidential election after his two major rivals conceded defeat Tuesday.
Moon, a liberal former human rights lawyer who was jailed as a student by a previous dictatorship, favors closer ties with the DPRK, 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.
Moon, the child of refugees who fled DPRK during the Korean War, will lead a nation shaken by a scandal that felled his conservative predecessor, Park Geun-hye, 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.
In a speech to his supporters on Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul late Tuesday, the left-leaning candidate pledged to represent all the country’s people. “I will be president for all South Koreans,” he told cheering crowds.
Tuesday’s election saw strong turnout — about 77 percent of 42.5 million eligible voters. Moon had a relatively low share of the total vote — 41.4 percent according to an exit poll — but there were many more major candidates than in 2012, when Park won 51.5 percent, 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 percent and 21.8 percent, respectively, according to the exit poll, which had a margin of error of 0.8 percentage points.
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 by-election 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.
Story compiled with information from The Associated Press,CGTN and Xinhua.