(ATTN: UPDATES with remarks from Hong Joon-pyo, minor changes in paras 7-16)
By Byun Duk-kun and Song Sang-ho
SEOUL, May 9 (Yonhap) — An exit poll of voters indicated a clear win for Moon Jae-in of the liberal Democratic Party in South Korea’s presidential election Tuesday.
Moon was estimated to have garnered 41.4 percent of all votes, according to the exit poll conducted by three major local broadcasters — MBC, KBS and SBS.
The front-runner was followed by Hong Joon-pyo of the conservative Liberty Korea Party with 23.3 percent.
The outcome of the exit poll was announced as the one-day voting came to end at 8 p.m.
Apparently seeing no possibility of the actual outcome of the vote being any different from the exit poll, Moon said his election, if confirmed, would mark the people’s and the party’s victory.
“It will mark the victory of the people’s desperate wish for a government change. We did our utmost to help realize this aspiration of the people, and I believe that was the driving force that enabled our victory today,” Moon told his supporters and party officials at the party’s Seoul headquarters.
Hong hinted at his acceptance of defeat, suggesting that his winning more than 20 percent of all votes in the election would mark success in its own way.
“If the outcome of the exit poll is true, I will be happy to have rebuilt the party that had collapsed,” he told reporters.
The former ruling party, previously called the Saenuri Party, was split in two after the defection late last year of 33 lawmakers who backed the parliamentary impeachment of then-President Park Geun-hye over a corruption scandal. They later created the Bareun Party in January.
Park was removed from office on March 10 by a Constitutional Court ruling that upheld the parliamentary impeachment, setting the stage for the rare presidential by-election held Tuesday.
The election had been viewed to be tilted in favor of liberal candidates as it followed the corruption scandal that led to her arrest and indictment.
Ahn Cheol-soo of the center-left People’s Party was expected to finish third, with the exit poll showing him winning 21.8 percent of all votes cast in the election.
Yoo Seong-min of the splinter conservative Bareun Party came in a distant fourth with 7.1 percent, followed by Sim Sang-jeung of the progressive Justice Party with 5.9 percent.
Because the latest presidential election was aimed at filling the country’s now vacant top executive office, the successful candidate’s single five-year term will begin immediately after confirmation of the election result by the National Election Commission.
The NEC earlier said counting all the votes may take up to 10 hours, but that the winner could emerge as early as around midnight.
The election watchdog said 77.2 percent of all eligible voters cast their ballots in Tuesday’s election.
It marked the highest voter turnout in a presidential election over the past two decades. The last presidential election held in 2012 posted a turnout rate of 75.8 percent, following a 63 percent turnout five years earlier.
The high turnout rate in Tuesday’s election may indicate a high public interest in a possible regime change following the massive corruption scandal involving the former president.
Also, a record number of more than 11 million or over 26 percent of the total 42.4 million eligible voters cast their ballots over a two-day early voting period held last week.