Conservative Winner Appeals for National Unity
Lee Myung-bak of the conservative opposition Grand National Party raises his fist in the air at the party headquarters in Seoul after he was confirmed to be the winner in the presidential election, Wednesday night. / Yonhap
By Yoon Won-sup
Lee Myung-bak of the conservative opposition Grand National Party (GNP) won a landslide victory on his conservative, pragmatic and pro-American platforms Wednesday, ending 10 years of liberal rule.
Lee secured 47.8 percent of the vote, defeating Chung Dong-young of the liberal United New Democratic Party (UNDP) with 26.9 percent and independent Lee Hoi-chang with 15.3 percent as of 11 p.m., according to the National Election Commission (NEC).
Lee's victory symbolized Koreans voted for bread-and-butter issues over ideological ones, and probably shrugged off his possible involvement in a financial fraud.
In a speech to the nation, the President-elect said that he will do his utmost to revive the economy as a top priority, but avoided touching on the fraud case involving himself.
``At the request of the people, I'll save Korea's troubled economy,'' he said. ``I'll also strive to promote social harmony and national unity.''
However, Lee becomes the first President-elect who faces a criminal investigation for his alleged involvement in a financial scam. An independent counsel will investigate the allegations before his scheduled taking of office on Feb.25.
He will become the first pro-business former CEO to run Korea. The pro-American conservative is expected to demand reciprocity in aid to North Korea, a major departure from the liberal administrations of Roh Moo-hyun and Kim Dae-jung.
The voter turnout at 62.9 percent was the lowest in the history of public voting in presidential elections, according to the NEC. In the 2002 election, the turnout stood at 70.8 percent. Observers said the low turnout was mainly due to Lee's unchallenged popularity throughout the race, though fraud allegations have haunted him. The release of a video clip Sunday in which he said he established BBK, the main company involved in the fraud, rallied his supporters, rather than alienating them.
The GNP said Lee's victory shows the people's desire for ending the ideologically-charged ``leftist'' rule of the Roh administration, and hopes for reviving what it sees the troubled economy.
Lee is expected to lead the country with totally different policies from Roh, as Lee appealed to voters with his conservative and economy-first policy platforms.
Lee will introduce pro-business economic policies and bold tax cuts, and reduce the government payroll to save money. He also promised to restore the government pressrooms, which Roh closed.
The runner-up, Chung said he accepted the electoral result. Cheon Ho-seon, presidential spokesman, also said Cheong Wa Dae respected the people's choice.
Meanwhile, the liberal UNDP was in deep shock as their candidate Chung lost by a record margin.
The party claimed that the President-elect is not legally cleared of his past wrongdoings, including the BBK financial scam.
In line with a bill passed Monday, the President-elect will face a criminal investigation from next Wednesday.
If the independent counsel confirms the allegations, Lee could face complicated legal challenges as he forms a transition team to name key members for his administration. The state prosecution cleared him of all allegations in an initial investigation earlier this month.
The election result also showed political regionalism is still alive.
The president-elect, whose stronghold is the Gyeongsang provinces, saw over 60 percent of support in his hometown in the southeastern region, while Chung received landslide support of up to 80 percent in his home turf in the southwestern Jeolla provinces.