Updated at: 12/19/2012 3:06 AM
By SAM KIM
(AP) SEOUL, South Korea - South Korea had the largest voter turnout in a decade in presidential elections Wednesday, a sign of strong voter discontent with President Lee Myung-bak. Here’s a glance at what the presidential vote means for voters and what changes they may be seeking:
WHAT’S AT STAKE: A single five-year presidential term starting Feb. 25 to replace conservative incumbent President Lee Myung-bak and lead Asia’s fourth-largest economy.
WHO’S RUNNING: Park Geun-hye, the daughter of late dictator Park Chung-hee and a five-term lawmaker of the ruling conservative party, is running against Moon Jae-in, a former human rights lawyer who served as a close aide to former liberal President Roh Moo-hyun. Ahn Cheol-soo, an independent who founded the country’s largest antivirus software maker, dropped out of the race to support Moon despite leading Park in hypothetical two-way polls.
WHO CAN VOTE: About 40 million people aged 19 or older are eligible to vote in a population of 50 million. In a first for the country, more than 150,000 South Koreans living and working abroad voted from overseas.
MAIN ISSUES: Welfare and other measures to curb widening income gaps have been topics. A rocket launch by North Korea last week raised the tense ties with Pyongyang higher as an issue, but generally the North has been low on voters’ agenda.
The candidates have also squared off on how strongly to confront family-run conglomerates that have often been accused of wielding their influence to get away with corporate crimes and criticized for expanding into small-scale bread-and-butter industries.
Both candidates agree dialogue with North Korea should reopen, but Park stresses North Korea should honor its past commitments to dismantle its nuclear arms programs while Moon says cross-border talks should resume unconditionally.
In other areas of debate, the two contenders locked horns on ways to combat the falling birth rate haunting their country’s economic future, ease the burden of household debt and prevent sexual crimes that have drawn strong public ire over the years. They also billed themselves as the best suited to reducing tuition fees for college students already troubled by difficulties in getting jobs, expanding health care to deal with rising medical costs and supporting scientists after a series of failures to launch a satellite.
Reforms to streamline the legislature were also a topic of debate, along with how to break the long-running chain of corruption scandals involving first families and presidential aides.
Park’s historical views toward her father’s dictatorship dominated the election landscape early in the race, while the opposition blasted incumbent President Lee for his massive government projects, including the renovation of major rivers around the country.
Conservatives attacked Moon’s liberal camp with accusations that his former boss Roh promised North Korean leader Kim Jong Il during a 2007 summit that Seoul would yield to Pyongyang’s claim over a disputed sea boundary. Moon denies it.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)