Liberal claims victory as South Korea's leader

Millions of South Koreans flocked to almost 14,000 polling stations nationwide Tuesday to choose one of 13 candidates vying to become their next leader. A record 15 candidates registered to run, with two withdrawing before election day. Two months after booting their sitting pres. "But it should be manageable if the U.S. can avoid shooting itself in the foot", said Scott Snyder, director of the program on U.S. -Korea policy at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Voting comes at a time of heated tensions on the Korean peninsula and the victor could transform the country's fraught relationship with North Korea - and threaten its ties with the US.

His main rivals conceded the election to Moon as exit polls and projections by local media organizations claimed his landslide victory.

The ballot was needed after Park Geun-Hye was ousted and indicted for corruption, and took place against a backdrop of high tensions with the nuclear-armed North.

Official results are not expected until Wednesday morning in South Korea.

South Koreans flocked to polling stations to elect a new leader on Tuesday, with a high turnout suggesting voters are eager to move on from a corruption scandal that brought down the former president and shook the political and business elite.

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Liberal politician Moon Jae-in won South Korea's presidential election on Tuesday, exit polls showed, an expected victory that would end almost a decade of conservative rule and bring a more conciliatory approach toward North Korea.

The election, which follows the impeachment of former President Park Geun Hye in March over a corruption scandal, casts a shade of uncertainty over the future of Seoul's cooperation with the U.S.to rein in North Korea.

Exit polls showed Moon Jae-In of the liberal Democratic Party winning over Hong Joon-Pyo of the conservative Liberty Korea Party and Ahn Cheol-Soo of the center-left People's Party.

Daniel Pinkston, an worldwide relations expert at Seoul's Troy University, said Moon's policy toward the North reflected "a strong public desire for a reduction in tensions and animosity between the two Koreas". The Korean Broadcasters Association said the poll had a margin of error of 0.8 percentage points.

Moon, a liberal former human rights lawyer who was jailed as a student by a previous dictatorship, favors closer ties with North Korea, saying hard-line conservative governments did nothing to prevent the North's development of nuclear-armed missiles and only reduced South Korea's voice in global efforts to counter North Korea.

In February 2016, South Korea shut down the Kaesong Industrial Complex in response to a North Korean nuclear test and long-range rocket launch.

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The NEC estimates a total voter turnout of up to 80 percent. This was Moon's second attempt to bid for the country's presidential election. "The electorate wants to punish the whole party for the misrule of the Park era", said John Delury, a professor at Yonsei University.

If you thought the American presidential election was like something out of a TV show, just wait 'til you see what's going on in South Korea.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the neighboring countries share common strategic interests.

When he last served in government, in the early 2000s, South Korea had a "Sunshine Policy" championed by the late President Kim Dae-Jung which favored engagement with North Korea.

Regarding relations with Japan, Mr Moon has repeatedly called for renegotiation for a bilateral agreement the two governments reached in 2015 on dealing with the issue of comfort women forced into Japanese military brothels before and during World War II. Other than Justice Party candidate Shim Sang-jeong, who thinks LGBT rights should be a given, Moon's stance was as progressive a view as was available for Korean voters this election. He promises stronger government support for small companies and startups, and to reduce South Korea's notoriously long work hours to help boost job creation. He has consistently outranked his rivals in opinion polls, scoring 42.2 per cent in the latest Realmeter survey, more than double that of his rivals.

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