March 28, 2017 5:50 am JST

Moon rises above rivals in South Korea election

Former chief of opposition party wins decisive lead in first primary

KOICHI KATO, Nikkei staff writer

Moon Jae-in. © Yonhap/Kyodo

SEOUL -- South Korea's leading opposition Democratic Party of Korea has officially begun choosing its nominee for the presidential election on May 9, with former leader Moon Jae-in winning the first primary in a landslide on Monday.

Moon won 60.2% of the votes in Gwangju and Jeolla provinces. South Chungcheong Gov. Ahn Hee-jung came in second at 20%, followed by Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung at 19.4%.

The winning candidate must have at least half the valid votes, which will be cast by a total of 2.14 million party members and non-party members in several primaries. If no candidate has majority support by the end of the process next Monday, the top two will compete in a runoff on April 8.

As a native of Gyeongsang Province, Moon was thought to have a weak hold over Gwangju and Jeolla voters. The other Democratic Party candidates had hoped to keep Moon short of a majority in the southwestern region to boost their chances in the later primaries. But the former party chief has started off with an unexpectedly large lead.

Moon pledged to meet the expectations of the people in Gwangju and Jeolla provinces by turning his decisive victory in the first primary into a decisive change in government.

Among all parties' candidates, Moon leads the field with 31% support overall, according to a new poll by Gallup Korea. Ahn came in at 17% and Lee at 8%.

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