South Koreans have started casting their votes in a potentially historic presidential election that could result in Asia’s fourth-largest economy getting its first female leader. Polling stations opened on Tuesday, with polls showing a tight race between ruling conservative party candidate Park Geun-Hye and her liberal rival from the main opposition party, Moon Jae-In. The booths were schedule to close at 6pm with a national holiday declared to allow maximum turnout among the country’s more than 40 million registered voters.
Park, 60, is looking to make history by becoming the first female president of a male-dominated nation, and the first to be related to a former leader.
She is the daughter of one of modern Korea’s most polarising figures, the late dictator Park Chung-Hee, who is both admired for dragging the country out of poverty and reviled for his ruthless suppression of dissent during 18 years of autocratic rule.
Moon, who was chief of staff to the late left-wing president Roh Moo-Hyun, is a former human rights lawyer who was once jailed for protesting against the Park Chung-Hee regime.
Both candidates’ campaigns highlighted the need for “economic democratisation” – a campaign term about reducing the social disparities caused by rapid economic growth – and promised to create new jobs and increase welfare spending.