South Koreans are voting for a new president, following a year of political upheaval that included massive peaceful protests and the impeachment and arrest of former President Park Geun-hye.
Polling stations opened Tuesday at 6 a.m. and a winner is expected to be announced before the end of the night.
Leading the pre-election polls by a large margin is Liberal Democratic Party of Korea candidate Moon Jae-in, with about 20 percentage points over his two main rivals. If Moon wins, it will be the first time in a decade for liberals to take power following conservative rule.
Moon promises to reduce corruption
Moon, who is a human rights lawyer, has promised to reduce government corruption, increase spending to create jobs, and raise taxes on the wealthy. On the international front, Moon wants more engagement with North Korea, including reopening the jointly run Kaesong Industrial Complex in North Korea, which was closed following Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test last year.
His closest rivals are conservative Liberty Korea Party candidate Hong Joon-pyo and the People’s Party candidate Ahn Cheol-soo, who also is a liberal.
Tuesday’s election was called after conservative President Park was forced out of office and arrested in March in a corruption scandal. For weeks leading up to Park’s impeachment, massive peaceful protests, dubbed the Candlelight Revolution, were held across the country to demand Park’s ouster and for reforms to the political system in which powerful conglomerates have undue influence over elected leaders.
The corruption scandal involving Park also has led to the indictment of Samsung Group vice chairman Lee Jae-yong and Lotte Group chairman Shin Dong Bin.
Moon requests mandate
On the final day of campaigning, Moon asked voters to give him a large mandate.
“With landslide support with tens of thousands of votes, a miraculous change like a natural cataclysm is possible,” he said on Monday.
Hong also made his final appeal to voters on Monday, saying that conservative values will help keep the free market strong, and a strong defense will keep the country safe.
“I stood up to prevent the left-wing from seizing power, and acted to protect a free Republic of Korea. We will win. Truth will beat lies,” he said.