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Economic woes, not North Korea, dominate South Korea elections

By Elizabeth Shim
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Economic woes, not North Korea, dominate South Korea elections
South Korean presidential front-runner Moon Jae-in is placing top priority on job creation in a slow-growth economy. File Photo by Jeon Heon-kyun/EPA

May 4 (UPI) -- South Koreans have begun heading to the polls to elect their next president, more than a month after former President Park Geun-hye was arrested on corruption charges.

Nearly 5 million people have cast their votes in the early voting period ahead of election day on Tuesday, Yonhap reported Thursday.

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Several issues have been the highlights of a truncated election season: increased threats from North Korea, and even the mixed signals from U.S. President Donald Trump on his approach to the Korean peninsula, The New York Times reported.

None of those issues, however, have a chance of outweighing the greatest concerns of South Korean voters: employment prospects and economic opportunities in a country overshadowed by the success of large conglomerates like Samsung, according to local press reports.

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High rates of youth joblessness and lack of economic security are drawing voters to candidates like the progressive front-runner Moon Jae-in, who on Thursday pledged to create 810,000 new jobs in the public and private sectors, News 1 reported.

"I will make a heaven for job vacancies," Moon said during a television appearance.

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The candidate from the left-leaning Democratic Party of Korea said he blames big corporations for not only pushing out smaller competitors and threatening their survival, but also by "stealing away their technology" in a market that largely favors stronger players.

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Moon has said he supports South Korea's alliance with the United States and that a meeting with Trump would be his first priority.

His rival, Ahn Cheol-soo of the People's Party, has promised both political and economic reform, while appealing to more conservative voters with a promise to stand by the deployment of THAAD, the U.S. missile defense system.

Moon, by contrast, had said the deployment would come under review.

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Ahn has made similar promises to Moon regarding jobs and the economy, but the physician turned software entrepreneur is using his reputation as a businessman to boost proposals that would benefit South Korea's tech industry, which he described as a "fourth Industrial Revolution."

Ahn has been losing some ground to conservative candidate Hong Jun-pyo.

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