Seoul, Dec. 19 (Reuters): Ruling party candidate Roh Moo-hyun emerged as the early favourite to win South Korea’s presidential election today, a result that could complicate ties with the US as the allies grapple with North Korea’s nuclear programme.
Exit polls from all major broadcasters suggested Roh beat conservative Opposition candidate Lee Hoi-chang in a closely fought election that had become a referendum on how to handle South Korea’s unpredictable Communist neighbour.
Exit polls in previous South Korean elections have not always proved to be correct.
But with more than half the vote counted, Roh had a 1.3 per cent point lead over Lee, according to the National Elections Commission. A winner is expected to be confirmed early tomorrow. The voter turnout at 70.2 per cent was the lowest in South Korean history.
A victory by Roh, 56, a populist human rights and labour lawyer, would be a stunning turnaround after the 11th-hour desertion of his election alliance partner, Chung Mong-joon.
Roh has vowed to be tough on the family-run conglomerates that dominate Asia’s fourth-largest economy, but continue President Kim Dae-jung’s “sunshine policy” of reconciliation with North Korea.
Prakash Sakpal, an economist with ING Barings in Hong Kong, said the projected ruling party win was “good news because Roh will continue the current government’s economic reform”.