Millions of South Koreans headed to polls Tuesday to elect a new president, in an election already likely swayed by Trump rhetoric.
Written by Marisa Kuhlewein
Produced online by Annie Pullar
South Korean’s head to the polls to choose a new leader in an election which is expected to see a dramatic shift from years of conservative rule.
The election comes seven months early after former President Park Geun-hye was impeached for her involvement in a corruption scandal.
Moon Jae-in, the runner-up to Park in 2012, is the favourite to become president.
His rivals include Ahn Cheol-soo, 55, of the centrist People’s Party, and Hong Joon-pyo of the Liberty Korea Party, an offshoot of Park’s conservative wing.
Korean relations expert from the Australian National University, Dr Leonid Petrov says this is a pivotal election for Koreans.
“It looks like it’s a very ideological election, so the progressives versus conservatives, who are offering exactly the opposite division for the future of South Korea,” he says.
Election favourite democratic leader Moon Jae-in could bring a left government to power for the first time in almost a decade.
He promises to curb the concentration of economic power in the hands of the chaebol, the family orientated business groups whose ties to government were exposed in the scandal that saw the former President impeached.
Dr Petrov says Moon Jae-in’s sceptical approach to the Trump Administration makes him a particularly attractive candidate for younger generations.
“Moon Jae-in is appealing to the younger generation of South Koreans who are hungry for jobs, who know that North Korea is not the main enemy who has to be confronted and contained but rather engaged and co-operated with,” he says.
The other front-runner Ahn Cheol-soo, representing the older conservative generation of the electorate, backs the U.S. missile shield and supports the Trump Administration as well as a continuation of the tougher treatment of North Korea.
Dr Petrov says the victor of the election faces a slew of challenges.
“South Korea is now at the cross-road, whoever is going to be elected today will need to proclaim war against corruption, mobilisation of forces to support the sinking economy and relation with North Korea is going to be another challenge,” he says.
Analysts believe the election has potential to herald a shift in diplomatic relations, saying Moon’s win could result in cooling relations with the U.S. or even opening up conflicts.