- Title: SOUTH KOREA: South Koreans begin voting for the country's new leader
- Date: 19th December 2007
- Summary: (BN01) SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (DECEMBER 19, 2007) (REUTERS) (SOUNDBITE) (Korean) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE LEE MYUNG-BAK SAYING: "As you all know this time we need to change the regime which continued for last ten years. I believe the regime change must be done by the people's power and by the hands of the people."
- Embargoed: 3rd January 2008 12:00
- Topics: Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA8P10MVEMWHESM2IQB8IP4JEPS
- Story Text: South Koreans begin voting for a new leader expected to pick a conservative former executive who says he'll help business and get tough on North Korea but whose leadership may be undermined by a fraud investigation.
South Koreans began voting for a new leader at 6 a.m. (2100 GMT on Tuesday) on Wednesday (December 19), expected to pick a conservative former executive who says he'll help business and get tough on North Korea but whose leadership may be undermined by a fraud investigation.
The last legally allowed opinion polls a week ago showed former Hyundai Group executive and ex-Seoul mayor Lee Myung-bak should easily win the single, five-year term to lead the world's 13th largest economy.
But since then a financial scandal has resurfaced which though not expected to unseat him could damage his political standing by making him the first president-elect to face a criminal investigation.
On Monday, parliament voted to appoint a special investigator to look into charges that Lee, who denies any wrongdoing, was linked to an investment firm suspected of swindling millions of dollars from investors.
Even if he is implicated, the outcome of the probe is unlikely to be resolved before the inauguration on Feb. 25. A sitting president cannot be prosecuted for such crimes.
President Roh Moo-hyun voted early in the morning near the presidential Blue House. Unexpectedly Roh did not say anything before leaving the voting place.
A voter said he had voted for a candidate who could boost the country's economy.
"The person I voted for has a good image related to economy, which most voters consider very important," said 60-year-old Gang Jin-seok.
26-year-old Kim Yoon-jung said, "I hope a candidate who is good at economy and politics will win eventually even if he is not the one I voted for."
Polls close at 6 p.m. (0900 GMT) and fewer of the 38 million voters are expected to turn out for this election because of Lee's daunting lead in a country used to close races in its four previous democratic elections.
"As you all know this time we need to change the regime which continued for last ten years. I believe the regime change must be done by the people's power and by the hands of the people," said Lee to journalists after he finished his voting.
His closest rival is the left-leaning candidate Chung Dong-young, who served in the cabinet of outgoing President Roh Moo-hyun and is seen as his heir. Chung trailed Lee by about 30 percentage points in last week's poll.
If Lee is elected, it will end of 10 years of liberal presidents in a county which saw its only saw its first open vote in 1987. Since then, it has sent a former general, two dissidents who fought decades of dictatorship and a human right lawyer to the presidential Blue House.
Lee would be the first businessman.
Financial markets have been encouraged by Lee's pledges to make it easier for foreign investors and cut through the red tape he sees as stifling local business, especially the giant conglomerates which were behind South Korea's economic rise.
Lee, nicknamed "the bulldozer" for his can-do style and who turned 66 on Election Day, says he wants to bring 7 percent growth.
That compares to an average of a little over 4 percent during Roh's rule but economists say Lee's target is a tall order for a country which is coming under increasing competitive pressure from neighbouring China while one of its biggest export markets, the United States, is looking at an economically tough 2008.
He is likely to be less generous to North Korea, which has seen a strong flow of aid under the Roh government. Lee wants Seoul's largesse tied more closely to progress the North makes in ending its nuclear arms programme.
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