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South Korean Conservative Opposition Candidate Yoon Elected President

INTERNATIONAL: Conservative political novice vows national unity after winning the most closely fought election in recent South Korean history. Yoon Suk Yeol, a conservative former top prosecutor, has been elected South Korea’s new president, defeating his chief liberal rival in one of the country’s most closely fought presidential elections.

Yoon , 60, from the main opposition People Power Party, has edged out the ruling Democratic Party's Lee Jae-myung with 48.6 percent of the vote to 47.8 percent, with around 99.8 percent of the ballots counted as of 5:30 a.m. on Thursday.

At a separate ceremony with supporters, Yoon has mentioned he would put top priority on “national unity,” adding all people should be treated equally regardless of their regional, political and socioeconomic differences.

Yoon has also mentioned he would honor the constitution and parliament and work with opposition parties to heal polarized politics and foster unity, calling the election a "victory of the great people." Lee had conceded defeat and congratulated his opponent.

Yoon's five-year term will begin this month to replace incumbent President Moon Jae-in, who is constitutionally barred from seeking re-election.

The election boiled down to a two-way showdown between Yoon from the opposition People Power Party and Lee from the governing Democratic Party. They spent months slamming, mocking and demonising each other in one of the most bitter political campaigns in recent memory, aggravating the country’s already severe domestic divisions.

Yoon has added he would deal with North Korean provocations sternly and seek to boost trilateral security cooperation with Washington and Tokyo. He has also highlighted he would make an enhanced alliance with the United States the centre of his foreign policy while taking a more assertive stance on China.

The election came as South Korea has been grappling with an Omicron-driven COVID-19 surge. On Wednesday, health authorities have reported 342,446 new virus cases, a record high. People infected with the coronavirus voted after regular voting ended on Wednesday evening.

With conservatives initially in shambles after Park’s fall, Moon’s approval rating at one point hit 83 percent as he pushed hard to achieve reconciliation with North Korea and delve into alleged corruption by past conservative leaders. He has eventually faced a strong backlash as talks on North Korea’s nuclear programme have faltered and his anti-corruption drive has raised questions of fairness.

Yoon had been Moon’s prosecutor general but resigned and joined the opposition last year following infighting about probes of Moon’s allies. Yoon has stated those investigations were objective and principled, but Moon’s supporters have claimed he was trying to thwart Moon’s prosecution reforms and elevate his own political standing.

Yoon’s critics have also attacked him for a lack of experience in party politics, foreign policy and other key state affairs. Yoon has responded that he would let experienced officials handle state affairs that require expertise.

PHOTO: BALLOT COUNTING/ SOUTH KOREA'S OPPOSITION PEOPLE POWER PARTY MEMBERS CHEERING AND PRESIDENT-ELECT YOON SUK-YEOL SHAKING HANDS WITH PARTY MEMBERS/ SOUNDBITE FROM YOON/ YOON MEETING WITH HIS SUPPORTERS AND DELIVERING SPEECH


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