Progressive, Pro-Dialogue Moon Jae-in Likely Wins South Korea Election
Moon favors resuming talks with North Korea and says will review previous administration's decision to host American missile defense system
South Korea appears to have elected progressive candidate Moon Jae-in as president, according to exit polls released Tuesday after voting ended.
The snap election came after former president Park Geun-hye was impeached over a corruption scandal. It was required to take place within 60 days of Park's ouster, which occurred in March.
Joint exit polls conducted by South Korea's three major TV networks found Democrat Moon to have 41.4 percent of the vote. Conservative Hong Joon-pyo took 23.3 percent and centrist Ahn Cheol-soo took 21.8.
Moon favors strengthening ties with North Korea, which the Washington Post notes "could open a new and potentially difficult chapter in relations with the United States" as the Trump administration continues its saber-rattling with the hermit kingdom.
"I felt the people's earnest desire for government change to create a country worthy of being called a nation," Moon told reporters after casting a ballot Tuesday morning.
If the victory is confirmed, he is expected to be sworn in Wednesday.
Moon is the son of North Korean refugees and previously worked as a human rights lawyer. He has advocated for resuming dialogue with North Korea while maintaining pressure and sanctions, opposing Park, who cut off all ties with the nation.
He has also promised to review the previous administration's decision to host an American Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile system, which has engendered criticism from North Koreans, who see it as an antagonistic move by the U.S., and from local residents, who were angered by President Donald Trump's statement that Seoul should pay for the system.
China has likewise expressed concerns that THAAD's powerful radar could be used to monitor its military activity.
South Koreans have long protested the U.S. army's presence in their country, regularly demonstrating outside of bases. Indeed, as Suki Kim wrote for Foreign Policy on Monday, "South Korea is more worried about Donald Trump than Kim Jong-Un."
In addition to reviewing South Korea's foreign relations, Moon has promised to reform the country's economy, which is mired in a "decades-long culture that brewed murky ties between politicians and businesses," as the Associated Press describes it.
That culture is partially what brought down Park, South Korea's first female president. Park is currently in jail awaiting trial on 18 charges, including bribery, over allegations that she took money from billionaire Samsung scion Lee Jae-yong in an effort by Lee to facilitate a major business transaction. Lee was also arrested.