SEOUL, South Korea — South Koreans went to the polls today to elect a new president, choosing between the liberal son of North Korean refugees or the conservative daughter of a late dictator. But both candidates want to shake up South Korean policy and engage with North Korea.
One big reason: Many voters are dissatisfied with current President Lee Myung Bak and his hard-line stance on the communist North. Presidential candidate Park Geun Hye, who belongs to Lee's party, has had to tack to the center in her bid.
Earlier polls showed Park and liberal candidate Moon Jae In in a dead heat in the race to lead Asia's fourth-largest economy and an important U.S. security bulwark in the region.
"Everything's now at heaven's disposal," Moon told reporters at a polling station in the southeastern port city of Busan.
Park, a five-term lawmaker, voted in Seoul and said she hoped the election would "open a new era" for their nation.
South Koreans express deepening worry about the economy and disgust over the alleged involvement of aides close to Lee in corruption scandals.
Many voters blame Lee's hard-line views for encouraging North Korea to conduct nuclear and missile tests — including a rocket launch by Pyongyang last week that outsiders call a cover for a banned long-range missile test. Some also say ragged North-South relations led to two attacks blamed on Pyongyang that killed 50 South Koreans in 2010.
Park is aiming to make history as the first female leader in South Korea and modern Northeast Asia. But she also works under the shadow of her father, Park Chung Hee, who ruled South Korea as dictator for 18 years until his intelligence chief killed him during a drinking party in 1979.
Moon was a young opponent of Park Chung Hee. Moon has worked as a human rights lawyer and spent time in jail for challenging Park's government.