Former Student Leader Eyes S. Korean Presidency

Moon Jae-in
Moon Jae-in

A former anti-government student leader, Moon Jae-in, stands poised to succeed ousted leader Park Geun-hye, the daughter of the slain South Korean dictator who jailed him in the 1970s.

Moon, the current frontrunner in Tuesday’s election, has led a life that seems custom-made for a starring role in South Korean opposition politics, AP reported.

The son of North Korean refugees, he waited in line as a boy in war-ravaged Busan for free US corn flour and milk powder. Imprisoned as a university student for trying to topple South Korea’s military rulers, the dictatorship later forced Moon into South Korea’s elite Special Forces.

Moon became a human rights lawyer and then rose to what the media called “King Secretary” to the last liberal leader of the country, with whom he worked to reconcile with North Korea. He later defended that mentor from corruption charges.

Moon, 64, who lost to Park in the 2012 elections by a million votes, says this election will probably be “the very last challenge in my life”. He said in a video message last month that he wants to be a leader who “opens the door for a new era, new politics and a new generation. This is my desperate wish ... I’ll definitely win.”

Moon’s popularity rose after Park was felled by a huge corruption scandal that left the country’s powerful conservative establishment rudderless.

Moon’s nearest rival is a moderate, Ahn Cheol-soo. But Moon has established a growing lead in recent polls.

He has said that if elected, he’ll build a more assertive South Korea, improve ties with North Korea and review the contentious deployment of an advanced US missile defense system in the South.

Some analysts say Moon’s rise to power will clash with US President Donald Trump, who wants more pressure on North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and has suggested that South Korea should pay more for US security commitments.

Others say the seriousness of the North Korea nuclear threat means Moon likely won’t push for any drastic changes.

Similar worries surrounded Moon’s friend, late President Roh Moo-hyun, who was elected in 2002 on a pledge not to “kowtow” to Washington, though he later sent troops to Iraq at US request and forged a free trade deal with the United States.


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