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Ex-Hyundai CEO Elected President in S. Korea

Lee Myung-bak looked likely to be South Korea's next president on Wednesday after exit polls showed he had won a landslide victory, as voters overlooked fraud allegations hoping the former Hyundai CEO can revive the economy.

Lee of the conservative Grand National Party received 50.3 percent of the vote, according to an exit poll sponsored jointly by TV stations KBS and MBC.

Lee, a former Seoul mayor, has led the race for months. He has pledged to take a more critical view of Seoul's engagement with rival North Korea and seek closer U.S. ties. Efforts to end North Korea's nuclear weapons ambitions stand at a critical juncture, with the communist country set to disclose all its programs for eventual dismantlement by a year-end deadline.

His closest rival, liberal Chung Dong-young, had 26 percent in the exit polls, and independent Lee Hoi-chang was third with 13.5 percent. The poll of 70,000 people had a margin of error of plus or minus 1 percentage point.

The National Election Commission said Lee was leading with 46.3 percent to Chung's 28.3 percent, with 23.7 percent of the vote counted.

Just days before the vote, the parliament voted to authorize an independent counsel investigation into Lee in a stock manipulation case where prosecutors had already cleared him of wrongdoing. The counsel is to complete the probe before the Feb. 25 inauguration, and Lee has said he would step aside from the presidency if found at fault.

"I want to thank the people who have defended me from numerous negative campaigns," Lee told reporters Wednesday morning after voting in Seoul. "This time, we have to change the government without fail. To do so, all the people should take part in the voting."

Unlike previous elections dominated by security policy with rival North Korea or relations with the United States, this year voters were focused on economic matters due to concern over sky-high real estate prices, soaring unemployment and a widening gap between rich and poor.

Nicknamed "The Bulldozer" for his can-do business acumen, Lee's support has been bolstered due to dissatisfaction over the five-year term of liberal President Roh Moo-hyun, who was constitutionally barred from seeking re-election.

Lee has made the economy central to his campaign, pledging to raise annual growth to 7 percent, double the country's per capita income to $40,000 and lift South Korea to among the world's top seven economies - known as his "747" pledge.

Lee first gained prominence as head of Hyundai's construction unit that symbolized South Korea's meteoric economic rise in the 1960-70s. As Seoul mayor from 2002-2006, he made his mark by opening up a long-paved-over stream to create a new landmark in the capital that also earned him environmental credibility.

Lee's march to the presidency hit a bump this week when a video was released by his liberal rivals showing him saying in 2000 that he founded a firm implicated in fraud. Although he had acknowledged the same in printed interviews, the video put the words directly into his mouth.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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