Voting began in South Korea’s presidential election on Tuesday to pick a successor to Park Geun-Hye, who was ousted and indicted for corruption.
Turnout is expected to hit a record high with many South Koreans galvanized by anger over the sprawling bribery and abuse of power scandal that brought down Park.
Voting began at 6am local time (2100 GMT Monday), with ballots being cast at more than 139,000 polling stations nationwide.
Left-leaning Moon Jae-In, a former human rights lawyer, has held a commanding lead in opinion polls for months. The final Gallup Korea survey before a week-long pre-election blackout gave him 38 percent support, well ahead of former tech mogul Ahn Cheol-Soo on 20 percent.
Although the election comes against a backdrop of high tensions with North Korea, the campaign focused largely on the economy.
However, after a decade of conservative rule a Moon victory could mean a sea change in Seoul’s approach toward both Pyongyang and key ally Washington.
The 64-year-old — accused of being soft on the North by his critics — has advocated dialogue to defuse tension and bring Pyongyang to negotiations. He is also seen to favor more independence in relations with the US, Seoul’s security guarantor with 28,500 troops in the country.
The favorite — who lost to Park in the last election in 2012 — has also promised to reinvigorate the South’s relatively sluggish growth and create more jobs.
Voters at a last-minute Moon rally on Monday said the country needed to come together after millions of South Koreans repeatedly took to the streets in candlelit demonstrations to demand the removal of Park, who left office in March.