(Updated; first posted at 7:36 a.m.)
Liberal politician Moon Jae-in won South Korea’s presidential election decisively on Tuesday, an expected victory ending nearly a decade of conservative rule and bringing a more conciliatory approach toward North Korea.
Moon took the oath of office in a simple ceremony in the domed rotunda hall of the parliament building in Seoul on Wednesday, Reuters reports.
He said he was prepared to visit North Korea and was ready to negotiate with China and the United States over a controversial anti-missile defense system.
Moon’s victory is expected to end months of political turmoil that led to parliament’s impeachment of conservative former President Park Geun-hye over an extensive corruption scandal.
Park was the first democratically elected leader in South Korea to be removed from office, triggering a snap election to choose her successor.
The election was closely watched abroad at a time of high tension with North Korea, which is believed to be preparing for a sixth nuclear test and is working to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable reaching the United States, presenting US President Donald Trump with perhaps his most pressing security issue.
Moon’s advocacy of engagement with North Korea contrasts with the approach adopted by the US, South Korea’s main ally, which is seeking to step up pressure on Pyongyang through further isolation and sanctions.
The White House nevertheless quickly congratulated Moon, saying it looked forward to working with him to strengthen the longstanding US-South Korea alliance.
Climbing a temporary stage set up in the main square in downtown Seoul, Moon, a 64-year-old former human rights lawyer who entered politics just five years ago, vowed in a midnight victory speech to usher in a new era for a country badly bruised by the scandal.
“I will make a just, united country,” he said. “I will be a president who also serves all the people who did not support me.”
With 80 percent of the votes counted at 1705 GMT, Moon was ahead with 40 percent, according to the National Election Commission.
A conservative challenger, former prosecutor Hong Joon-pyo, was next with 25.5 percent followed by centrist candidate Ahn Cheol-soo with 21.4 percent.
A plurality of votes is enough for victory, but with his Democratic Party holding 40 percent of the single-chamber, 299-seat assembly, Moon will have to build coalitions to pass legislation.
The results were in line with an exit poll by South Korea’s three biggest broadcasters, which showed Moon, 64, capturing 41.4 percent of the votes in a field of 13 candidates.
Voter turnout was 77.2 percent, the highest in 20 years, but short of the expected 80 percent mark amid drizzly weather.
A US official said Moon’s election could add “volatility” to ties with Washington, given his questioning of deployment of a US missile defense there and his advocacy of engagement with North Korea.
But the official said Moon may moderate his stance on installation of the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system once he is in office and is not expected to significantly alter the alliance.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer congratulated Moon and said in a statement: “We look forward to working with President-elect Moon to continue to strengthen the alliance between the United States and the Republic of Korea.”
Moon is expected to be sworn in for a five-year term later on Wednesday. He has said he would skip a lavish inauguration ceremony and start work straight away.
He is likely to quickly name a prime minister, who will need parliamentary approval. The main cabinet posts, including national security and finance ministers, do not need parliamentary confirmation.
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