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Koreans vote for new president to succeed ousted Park

S. Koreans vote for new president to succeed ousted Park Polls open in South Korea's presidential election
Tobias Pedroso | 09 May, 2017, 19:27

The election comes in the wake of the March 10 ouster of former President Park Geun-hye over a massive corruption scandal that also led to her arrest and indictment.

Moon's certain victory will bring an end to nearly a decade of conservative rule in South Korea and the hard-line approach toward North Korea that had Seoul walking in lock-step with Washington.

A Gallup Korea poll published last Wednesday showed Moon with 38 percent support in a field of 13 candidates, with centrist Ahn Cheol-soo his nearest challenger on 20 percent.

National elections are public holidays in South Korea and a record turnout was expected, with 75.1 per cent of voters casting their ballots by 7:00 pm, an hour before the polls closed, just below the final turnout of five years ago.

Despite the impeachment scandal many older voters like Lee Bong-ho still supported the conservative parties due to their strong national security positions that emphasize sanctions, military deterrence and support for the USA alliance to restrain the North Korean nuclear threat.

But a year after Roh's unexpected election victory in 2002, Moon joined the administration as a presidential aide, tasked with weeding out official corruption and screening candidates for top government posts, before rising to become his chief of staff.

(AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon). South Korean presidential candidate Ahn Cheol-soo of the People's Party holds flowers in front of supporters during an election campaign in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, May 8, 2017.

A Japanese government official says his country is closely watching South Korea's presidential election and hopes to strengthen bilateral relations with the new leader.

Conservative critics also accuse him of being too soft towards nuclear-armed North Korea. He advocates a two-track policy of dialogue while maintaining pressure and sanctions to encourage change. They 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.

The victor will be sworn in after the National Election Commission confirms the result early Wednesday.

Mr Moon has called for engagement with North Korea, saying that the hardline approach favoured by conservative governments did nothing to prevent the North from expanding its nuclear bomb and missile programmes and only reduced South Korea's voice in global efforts to deal with its rival.

Moon, who narrowly lost to Park in the last presidential election, in 2012, has criticized the two former conservative governments for failing to stop North Korea's weapons development.

Polls close at 20:00 local time (11:00 GMT), with the victor expected to be announced soon after. Her term was originally meant to end in February 2018. If Moon's win is confirmed, he's expected to reshape Seoul's policy on North Korea, by challenging the deployment of the USA missile defense system, THAAD, and opening talks with Pyongyang.

Park, South Korea's first female president, is jailed at a detention facility near Seoul and awaits a criminal trial set to start later this month.

The new president will also face the challenge of defusing tension with China, which is angry about South Korea's decision to deploy a USA antimissile defence system, known as THAAD, that China sees as a threat.

It follows months of political turmoil caused by ousted President Park Geun-hye's corruption scandal. She has been indicted on bribery, extortion and other corruption charges, which could see her jailed for life. During this period, South Korea began tours to the North Korean mountain resort of Kumgangsan and opened the industrial park at Kaesong where North Koreans worked in factories owned by South Korean companies.

Unless there is a major upset, liberal Moon Jae-in - who calls for a moderate approach on North Korea, wants to reform powerful family-run conglomerates and boost fiscal spending to create jobs - will be elected president.

Many of these legacies dated back to when South Korea was ruled by Park's dictator father, Park Chung-hee, a deeply divisive figure whose 18-year rule was marked by both rapid economic rise and severe civil rights abuse. Foreign experts say it may take only several years for North Korea to develop nuclear-armed missiles that can reach the USA mainland.