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Liberal Wins South Korean Presidency As Opponents Concede

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Liberal Wins South Korean Presidency As Opponents Concede

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Liberal Wins South Korean Presidency As Opponents Concede

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

After one president was impeached and removed from office, South Koreans today elected a new president. He's a liberal human rights lawyer whose parents were North Korean refugees. NPR's Lauren Frayer is following the story, and she's with us now from the capital, Seoul. Hi there, Lauren.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Hi, Kelly.

MCEVERS: What's it been like on voting day?

FRAYER: Voting day was a day off of work for most South Koreans, but it rained most of the day. That didn't stop turnout, which topped 77 percent, the highest in 20 years. There were no major delays or long lines. Everything happened pretty orderly. A lot of people, in fact, voted early last week. And before midnight, as Moon Jae-in's closest rivals conceded, people started flooding into this area of Seoul where protesters had camped out for months calling for the former president, Park Geun-hye's, ouster.

And those protests were fruitful. She was impeached and is now on trial for corruption. The man who will replace her, Moon Jae-in, elected today, got a lot of support from those protesters. He was once an activist like them back in the 1970s. So after midnight local time, Moon waded into that crowd of supporters, and here's a little bit of what it sounded like.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Chanting) Moon Jae-in.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting in Korean).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Chanting) Moon Jae-in.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting in Korean).

(CHEERING)

FRAYER: So there you can hear a party official on stage shouting Moon Jae-in, the name of the new president, and the crowd replies president in Korean.

MCEVERS: Tell us more about Moon Jae-in. Who is he?

FRAYER: He's a liberal. He's from South Korea's Democratic Party. He's a human rights lawyer, and he's most closely associated with a former left-wing president, Roh Moo-hyun. He had this sunshine policy of dialogue and economic aid to North Korea. And Moon is expected to revive that. Incidentally, as a personal connection to North Korea, as you mentioned, his parents were refugees from there. They were rescued by a U.S. warship in 1950 at the start of the Korean War.

But it's not all about North Korea here. Domestic issues were very important in this election. Moon also promised to add more public sector jobs and fight corruption that led to his predecessor's removal from office. Here's one voter, 34-year-old Seo Seung-gun, talking about how he hopes Moon represents a fresh start.

SEO SEUNG-GUN: I'm hoping that it sets the foundation from the very beginning. It's the government that is consistent with their words and their action.

FRAYER: So he says voters had really lost faith in government under the previous president, who went on trial last week for bribery and abuse of power.

MCEVERS: So tomorrow morning, Moon gets going. What's his first item on the list?

FRAYER: So normally, presidents get 60 days to prepare. Moon will be lucky if he gets a couple hours of sleep tonight. He takes office right away. First, an item on his agenda, there are calls to pardon ex-president Park. Moon has said he will not do that. He's also said he will reach out to the North, also to South Korea's historic ally, America. Interestingly, Moon wrote in his autobiography that he thinks South Korea should, quote, "learn how to say no to America." And so if he meets soon with President Trump, that could be a touchy meeting. They're also likely to talk about THAAD. That's a new U.S. missile defense system that's being installed in South Korea. Half of South Koreans - about half of South Koreans object to it; so does China. And Moon has said he would like to renegotiate that deal with the U.S.

MCEVERS: NPR's Lauren Frayer in Seoul, thank you very much.

FRAYER: You're welcome.

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