South Korea: Liberal Moon Jae-in wins presidential election, per exit polls

SEOUL, May 9 (Reuters) - Liberal politician Moon Jae-in won South Korea's presidential election on Tuesday, exit polls showed, an expected victory that would end nearly a decade of conservative rule and bring a more conciliatory approach toward North Korea.

A decisive win by Moon, with more than 40 percent of votes in a field of 13 candidates, would end months of political turmoil stemming from a parliamentary vote in December to impeach former President Park Geun-hye over an extensive corruption scandal.

The Constitutional Court upheld her impeachment in March, making her the first democratically elected leader to be removed from office and triggering a snap election to choose her successor.

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Relatives of victims who were onboard sunken ferry Sewol react as assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun announces the result of the impeachment vote on South Korean President Park Geun-hye during a plenary session at the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, December 9, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
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A lawmaker prays after voting on the impeachment bill of South Korean President Park Geun-hye at the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, December 9, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Officials and lawmakers count votes after voting on the impeachment bill of South Korean President Park Geun-hye at the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, December 9, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
People march toward the Presidential Blue House during a protest calling for South Korean President Park Geun-hye to step down in central Seoul, South Korea, December 3, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
People march toward the Presidential Blue House during a protest calling for South Korean President Park Geun-hye to step down in central Seoul, South Korea, December 3, 2016. The banner reads "Arrest all of them involved in Park Geun-hye and Choi Soon-sil!". REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
People march toward the Presidential Blue House during a protest calling for South Korean President Park Geun-hye to step down in central Seoul, South Korea, December 3, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Members of Korean Confederation of Trade Unions march with an effigy of South Korean President Park Geun-hye during a general strike calling for Park to step down, in central Seoul, South Korea November 30, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
People march toward the Presidential Blue House during a protest calling for South Korean President Park Geun-hye to step down in central Seoul, South Korea, December 3, 2016. PIcture taken with long exposure. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
People march during a protest calling for South Korean President Park Geun-hye to step down in central Seoul, South Korea, November 30, 2016. The signs read "Offender disturbing order of nation, Park Geun-hye". REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Protesters gather and occupy major streets in the city center for a rally against South Korean President Park Geun-hye in Seoul, South Korea December 3, 2016. REUTERS/Chung Sung-Jun/Pool
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Wearing a dark blue suit and blue tie, Moon was seen shaking hands with supporters and party officials and smiling on his way to a meeting of his Democratic Party after the exit poll results were announced.

"We will need to calmly wait and see as this was just exit polls," he told party members. "But if things go on this way and we win, today's victory is thanks to sheer desperation of the people who wanted a regime change."

"We will accomplish the two tasks given to us, reform and national unity that the people of this country desire."

Moon, 64, was beating conservative challenger, former prosecutor Hong Joon-pyo, by 41.4 percent to 23.3 percent of the votes, exit polls conducted jointly by three network television stations showed.

A Gallup Korea poll last week showed Moon had 38 percent support in a field of 13 candidates.

FRACTURED PARLIAMENT

Moon is expected to be sworn in on Wednesday after the National Election Commision releases the official result. 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, and main cabinet positions, including national security and finance ministers, which do not need parliamentary confirmation.

Moon, who narrowly lost to Park in the last presidential election, in 2012, favors dialog with North Korea to ease rising tension over its accelerating nuclear and missile program. He also wants to reform powerful family-run conglomerates, such as Samsung and Hyundai, and boost fiscal spending to create jobs.

Moon has criticized the two former conservative governments for failing to stop North Korea's weapons development. He advocates a two-track policy of dialog while maintaining pressure and sanctions to encourage change.

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SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - MAY 09: South Korean presidential candidate Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party of Korea reacts after a television report on an exit poll of the new president at the party's auditorium in the National assembly on May 9, 2017 in Seoul, South Korea. Polls have opened in South Korea's presidential election, called seven months early after former President Park Geun-hye was impeached for her involvement in a corruption scandal. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
South Korean presidential candidate Moon Jae-in (C) of the Democratic Party leaves after he watched screens showing the result of exit polls of the presidential election at a hall of the National Assembly in Seoul on May 9, 2017. The projected winner of South Korea's presidential election is a former special forces soldier, pro-democracy activist and human rights lawyer. / AFP PHOTO / JUNG Yeon-Je (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
South Korean presidential candidate Moon Jae-in (L) of the Democratic Party talks with his party leader Choo Mi-Ae (R) as they watch screens showing the result of exit polls of the presidential election at a hall of the National Assembly in Seoul on May 9, 2017. The projected winner of South Korea's presidential election is a former special forces soldier, pro-democracy activist and human rights lawyer. / AFP PHOTO / JUNG Yeon-Je (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - MAY 08: South Korean presidential candidate Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party of Korea, cheer during a presidential election campaign on May 8, 2017 in Seoul, South Korea. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
Moon Jae-in, presidential candidate of the Democratic Party of Korea, left, and his wife Kim Jung-sook pose for a photograph after casting a ballot for the presidential election at a polling station in Seoul, South Korea, on Tuesday, May 9, 2017. South Koreans began voting Tuesday in a special election to replace ousted leader�Park Geun-hye, the culmination of months of political discord marked by the country's biggest street protests since the 1980s. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Moon Jae-in, presidential candidate of the Democratic Party of Korea, greets attendees during a campaign rally at Gwanghwamun Square in Seoul, South Korea, on Monday, May 8, 2017. South Koreans are voting on May 9 in a special election to replace ousted leader�Park Geun-hye, the culmination of months of discord that saw the country's biggest street protests since the 1980s. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
South Korean presidential candidate Moon Jae-In (C) of the Democratic Party poses during his election campaign in Goyang city, northwest of Seoul, on May 4, 2017. South Korea will hold a presidential election on May 9 to replace former President Park Geun-hye, who was ousted from office in March over a corruption and abuse-of-power scandal. / AFP PHOTO / JUNG Yeon-Je (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
South Korean presidential candidate Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party of Korea prepares for a televised debate in Seoul on April 23, 2017. South Korea will hold a presidential election on May 9 to replace former President Park Geun-hye, who has been ousted from office on 10 March over a corruption and abuse-of-power scandal. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / KIM HONG-JI (Photo credit should read KIM HONG-JI/AFP/Getty Images)
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Moon faces working with a fractured parliament where his Democratic Party holds 40 percent of the single-chamber, 299-seat assembly, which will likely mean difficulties and deals to pass bills.

"He has to pursue cooperation with other liberal and centrist parties, since the Democratic Party does not have the majority," said Kim Man-heum, head of the Korea Academy of Politics and Leadership.

"Moon has been criticized for running his own 'clique', so in order to get over that negative image, he'll seek cooperation to avoid rifts and conflicts," Kim said.

His victory was bolstered by strong support from younger people, the majority of whom voted for him, according to the exit polls. Many of his supporters participated in big, peaceful weekend rallies over the last few months of 2016 and early this year, demanding Park step down.

QUESTION OVER U.S. ANTI-MISSILE SYSTEM

Moon, whose campaign promises include a "National Interest First" policy, has struck a chord with people who want the country to stand up to powerful allies and neighbors.

He wrote in a book published in January South Korea should learn to say "no to America."

A 64-year-old former human rights lawyer, Moon was a close friend and confidant of late president Roh Moo-hyun, who served from 2003 to 2008 and advocated the so-called "Sunshine Policy" of trying to engage North Korea through aid and exchanges.

Moon believes better inter-Korean relations is the best way to provide security on the Korean peninsula. But Washington is worried his moderate stance could undercut efforts to increase pressure and sanctions, senior South Korean officials said.

His election could also complicate the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system, which the former government in Seoul and the U.S. military agreed to last year.

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South Korean naval destroyers Sejong the Great and Yang Manchun, the U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Wayne E. Meyer, USS Michael Murphy and USS Stethem, the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain and the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson transit the western Pacific Ocean May 3, 2017. 

(U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Sean M. Castellano/Handout via REUTERS)

An F/A-18E Super Hornet launches from the U.S. Navy Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson during flight operations in the western Pacific Ocean May 2, 2017. Picture taken May 2, 2017. 

(U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Sean M. Castellano/Handout via REUTERS)

F/A-18 Hornets and Super Hornets fly over South Korean destroyers Sejong the Great and Yang Manchun and the U.S. Navy Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinsonas they transit the western Pacific Ocean May 3, 2017. 

(U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Sean M. Castellano/Handout via REUTERS)

An F/A-18E Super Hornet lands on the flight deck of the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson as the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain (L) and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer transit the western Pacific Ocean May 3, 2017. 

(U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Sean M. Castellano/Handout via REUTERS)

South Korean naval destroyers Sejong the Great and Yang Manchun, the U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Wayne E. Meyer, USS Michael Murphy and USS Stethem, the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain and the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson transit the western Pacific Ocean May 3, 2017.

(U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Sean M. Castellano/Handout via REUTERS)

Sailors conduct flight operations aboard the U.S. Navy Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson in the western Pacific Ocean May 2, 2017. Picture taken May 2, 2017.

(U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Sean M. Castellano/Handout via REUTERS)

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Moon has said the decision was made hastily and the next administration should have the final say on whether to deploy the system.

The election was closely watched by allies and neighbors at a time of high tension over North Korea's accelerating development of weapons since it conducted its fourth nuclear test in January last year. It conducted a fifth test in September and is believed ready for another.

Moon said in a YouTube live stream on Tuesday South Korea should take on a more active diplomatic role to curb North Korea's nuclear threat and not watch idly as the United States and China talk to each other.

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