Moon Pledges Unity From Election Win After South Korean Turmoil

  • Left-leaning candidate ends nine years of conservative rule
  • Election called after former leader Park was ousted in March

South Korea’s new president Moon Jae-in pledged to unify the nation after nine years of conservative rule that culminated in the country’s biggest street protests since the 1980s and the impeachment of his predecessor.

“This is really a victory for the people who did their utmost to make a country for justice, unity, principles and common sense,” Moon told supporters in Seoul. “I’ll become the president for everyone. A president who serves even those who didn’t support me."

Moon Jae-in on May 9.

Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg

The final tally showed Moon received 41.08 percent of votes, while conservative Hong Joon-pyo got 24.03 percent. Centrist Ahn Cheol-soo came third with 21.41 percent. 

The left-leaning Moon spoke with the chairman of South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, Yonhap News reported, adding he has ordered the military to maintain a high state of readiness. Tensions over North Korea’s nuclear program -- with U.S. President Donald Trump saying military action is possible against the regime -- will be an immediate test for Moon, who favors talks with Pyongyang.

QuickTake South Korea's Chaebol

The son of North Korean refugees, Moon criticized the early installation of a U.S. missile shield on South Korean soil and has said he’d meet with Kim Jong Un under the right circumstances.

Still, Kim has given no indication he is willing to halt his weapons tests in order to create room for international talks. Indeed, his U.K. ambassador Choe Il said the country will proceed with a further nuclear test, Sky reported Tuesday, though Choe added the timing of that was not decided.

“We congratulate President-elect Moon Jae-in and join the people of South Korea in celebrating their peaceful, democratic transition of power,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said in a statement. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to meet Moon as soon as possible, his office said in a statement.

‘Perfect Opportunity’

Moon should make the most of his opportunity to get North Korea to seek dialogue by stressing South Korea’s ties with the U.S. and China, according to Kim Tae-hyun, a professor at the Graduate School of International Studies at Chung Ang University in Seoul.

“This gives South Korea a perfect opportunity to take control over Korean peninsula issues, particularly given the concerns that it’s been excluded from discussions due to the leadership void,” Kim said.

Moon led opinion surveys ahead of the election that was triggered by the ouster in March of former President Park Geun-hye. She is in jail while on trial for corruption charges. Aside from North Korea, Moon has pledged tougher action against family-run conglomerates that dominate Asia’s fourth-biggest economy.

He’s also promised to add fiscal stimulus to create jobs for disaffected youth and bolster an economy forecast to expand this year at the slowest pace since 2012. 

A total of 77.2 percent of voters cast ballots, more than the 75.8 percent in the 2012 presidential election, which Moon lost to Park, according to the Election Commission.

Supporters gathered to cheer Moon as he gave his victory speech in Gwanghwamun square in downtown Seoul, where hundreds of thousands of protesters had rallied earlier this year to demand Park’s ouster.

Young Support

An exit poll earlier showed Moon, representing the Democratic Party of Korea, attracted the most support from voters in their 20s to 50s, while people in their 60s and older tended to vote for Hong, whose Liberty Korea Party is an offshoot of Park’s.

Because of Park’s impeachment, Moon’s single five-year term begins without the normal transition period. He will visit the Seoul National Cemetery at 10 a.m. Wednesday and be sworn in at the National Assembly at noon, according to his party.

Voter disillusionment over the Park scandal has prompted lawmakers to consider a constitutional change to reduce the powers of the president. While Moon’s party has the most representatives in the 299-member national assembly, parliamentary rules may make it hard to pass tough reform measures.

Read more on prospects for chaebol reform after Korea’s election

Moon has vowed to reduce the political influence of the chaebol in the wake of the turmoil. Optimism that corporate oversight will improve under a new administration has helped to send the benchmark Kospi index of shares to a record high, and those gains are likely to be sustained, according to Nomura Holdings Inc. analysts.

“We think that he will definitely improve corporate governance,” Young Sun Kwon, a senior economist at Nomura in Hong Kong, told Bloomberg Television on Monday. There is also Moon’s “expansionary” fiscal policy, Kwon said.

Moon is expected to boost government spending given domestic demand is hampered by growing youth unemployment and household debt. An extra budget may total about 10 trillion won ($8.8 billion), Kim Sang-jo, a Hansung University professor who counsels Moon on economic policy, said in an interview last month.

Choi Min-ho, 30, said he voted for Moon in the hope that he stamps out corruption. 

“There haven’t been enough policies for ordinary people like us,” said Choi, who is looking for a job while working at his father’s store. “I would like our next president to create a cleaner political environment.”

— With assistance by Hooyeon Kim, and Seyoon Kim

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