Liberal candidate Moon Jae-In won South Korea’s special election over the conservative challenger with a plurality of the vote, receiving 41.4% of the ballots in his favor. The ascendance of Moon, a human rights lawyer, comes after South Korea’s former president Park Geun-hye was impeached following an extortion scandal.
Moon presented himself as a change candidate and his message seemed to resonate with voters. “I feel that not only my party and myself but also the people have been more desperate for a change of government,” he said before voting.
According to the Washington Post, Moon will seek better relations with China, South Korea’s second-largest trading partner and, unlike his predecessor, Moon is not opposed to opening a dialogue with North Korea while still putting pressure on the country to halt its nuclear development program, through sanctions and other means.
Improving relations in China could mean the end of the THAAD missile defense system in South Korea that recently went operational in at least one region, which resulted in Chinese sanctions against South Korea that have hurt Seoul’s tourism industry and shutdown Korean grocery stores in China. Moon previously signaled that THAAD would be ditched, but has reconsidered as Chinese pressure mounted.
However, according to the BBC, while South Korea’s relationship with China and North Korea is an important international issue, Moon’s domestic policies may be what catapulted him to the presidency:
But while tensions on the Korean peninsula ensured the election was closely watched, for South Koreans the priority has been corruption and the economy, with youth unemployment stubbornly high.
Mr Moon has talked of reforming South Korea’s huge family-run conglomerates, known as chaebols, which dominate the domestic economy.