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Monday, April 3, 2017, 21:35

Liberal front-runner in ROK race wins party nomination

By Associated Press
Liberal front-runner in ROK race wins party nomination
The Republic of Korea opposition Democratic Party leader Moon Jae-in celebrates after winning the nomination as the party's presidential candidate during a party's presidential primary in Seoul, April 3, 2017. Moon who advocates improved ties with rival the Democratic People's Republic of Korea has become his party's candidate in next month's election of a successor to recently ousted President Park Geun-hye. (Lee Jin-man / AP)

SEOUL — A liberal opposition leader of the Republic of Korea (ROK) who wants to improve ties with rival the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) and pursue sweeping reforms became his party's presidential candidate Monday, boosting his status as front-runner in next month's election of a successor to recently ousted President Park Geun-hye.

If Moon Jae-in is elected, it would end nearly a decade of conservative rule in the ROK, during which ties with the DPRK have plunged to one of the lowest points in decades due to the DPRK's nuclear and missile tests and the ROK's response

If Moon Jae-in is elected, it would end nearly a decade of conservative rule in the ROK, during which ties with the DPRK have plunged to one of the lowest points in decades due to the DPRK's nuclear and missile tests and the ROK's response.

Analysts say Moon's softer approach toward the DPRK could produce discord with Washington.

Moon's popularity has surged since last fall, when a high-profile corruption scandal involving Park and a confidante flared. Millions took to the streets and called for Park's ouster, leading parliament to impeach her in December and the Constitutional Court to formally end her rule in March. Prosecutors arrested and jailed Park last week.

Moon, who lost the 2012 election to Park, received a second chance to run for the presidency by winning the Democratic Party's nomination in party voting that ended Monday. In a victory speech, Moon said if elected he would try to eradicate corruption, heal a deepening conservative-liberal divide and strengthen national security.

Moon didn't touch upon the DPRK. But he has previously called Park's hardline DPRK policy a failure, saying it's time to use both sanctions and dialogue to persuade the DPRK to resume negotiations on ending its nuclear and missile programs.

He has also been highly critical of Park's decision to let the United States place a high-tech missile defense system in the ROK that has angered both the DPRK and China.

Moon's stance could trigger "a certain level of friction or discord" with the government of US President Donald Trump, which has signaled a tougher stance toward the DPRK, said Lim Eul Chul, a DPRK expert at Kyungnam University in the ROK.

But Lim said Moon isn't likely to take any drastic reconciliation measures because the DPRK "has gone too far" in its nuclear program in recent years.

Moon, 64, previously worked as chief of staff for former liberal President Roh Moo-hyun, who espoused greater reconciliation with the DPRK. Roh's cooperation projects with the DPRK were suspended by his conservative successors including Park, who pushed for a tougher response to DPRK nuclear program.

Currently, Moon is the favorite in opinion polls for the May 9 election, but analysts say some of his rivals might join forces to field a single candidate in an attempt to defeat Moon, a common practice in the ROK presidential races. No serious attempt to launch a joint anti-Moon front has yet occurred.

Moon's main challenger is moderate Ahn Cheol-soo, who a recent poll indicated would beat Moon in a hypothetical two-way matchup but would lose in a multi-person race. Almost all other recent surveys have shown Moon enjoying comfortable leads in both multi-candidate and two-way polls against any of his competitors.

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