(ATTN: CHANGES headline; RECASTS second para with the finally tally in vote counting; UPDATES with additional information, minor changes throughout)
SEOUL, May 10 (Yonhap) — Moon Jae-in of the liberal Democratic Party was elected South Korea’s new president early Wednesday, with his five-year term set to begin shortly after confirmation of his victory by the election watchdog.
The 64-year-old politician won over 13.4 million, or 41.1 percent, of all votes to win the presidential election held Tuesday, according to the National Election Commission (NEC).
The president-elect failed to secure a majority, but his gap with runner-up Hong Joon-pyo of the conservative Liberty Korea Party came to over 5.57 million votes, marking the widest gap in all president elections held here. The previous record was set in 2007 when former President Lee Myung-bak won with a 5.32 million vote lead over his liberal rival Chung Dong-young, according to the NEC.
Hong finished with some 7.85 million votes, accounting for 24.03 percent of the total cast.
A total of 32.8 million voters cast their ballots in the rare presidential by-election, marking the highest voter turnout in 20 years.
Moon’s victory was widely expected as the election was considered to be tilted in favor of the liberal faction from the very start as it followed the March 10 ouster of former President Park Geun-hye.
The former conservative leader was removed from office by a Constitutional Court ruling that upheld the parliamentary impeachment of her in late 2016 over a series of corruption allegations that have also led to her arrest and indictment.
An exit poll had also placed Moon on top with 41.4 percent of all votes, strongly indicating his victory.
“I will build a new nation. I will make a great Korea, a proud Korea. And I will be the proud president of such a proud nation,” the president-elect said late Tuesday, declaring his victory even when less than half of all votes had been counted.
Hong was quick to accept defeat.
“If the outcome of the exit poll is true, I will be happy to have rebuilt the party that had collapsed,” Hong said.
Hong’s former ruling party, previously called the Saenuri Party, was split in two following the defection of 33 lawmakers who backed the parliamentary impeachment of the former president.
Ahn Cheol-soo of the center-left People’s Party finished third with 21.4 percent of the votes, according to the NEC.
“I humbly accept the people’s choice. I hope for the Republic of Korea to move forward into the future,” he said at a press conference Tuesday, referring to his country by its official name.
With the country’s top elected office currently vacant, Moon’s single five-year term is set to begin immediately after the NEC confirms his victory in a meeting slated for 8 a.m.
The election watchdog was also scheduled to present the president-elect with a written certificate of his election, which would mark the start of his presidency, NEC officials have said.
Unlike his predecessors, Moon will not have a transition team, nor enough time to prepare a formal inauguration ceremony.
A small, makeshift inauguration ceremony was expected to held at the National Assembly, where he would be sworn in as the country’s 19th president by National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Yang Sung-tae.
Meanwhile, an informed government source said all incumbent ministers and vice ministers have submitted offers to step down, apparently making room for the president-elect and his new administration.
Still, how many will actually be replaced remained to be seen. Earlier reports suggested Moon may name his new chief of staff later Wednesday, along with his nominee for prime minister.