Park Geun-hye [pronounced: park goon-'HEH] has been elected to become South Korea's first female head of state.
Ms. Park, a conservative five-term lawmaker, won the election Wednesday with 51.6 percent of the vote to 48 percent for her opponent Moon Jae-in, with more than 90 percent of the votes counted.
Moon conceded the race shortly after the National Election Commission was quoted as saying Ms. Park was a certain winner. Moon is a liberal human-rights lawyer who was once jailed under the administration run by Ms. Park's father, dictator Park Chung-hee.
Despite frigid winter weather, voters bundled up and stood in long lines across the country. Turnout was measured at 76 percent, surpassing the turnout of the previous two presidential elections.
Casting her ballot earlier in Seoul, the 60-year-old Ms. Park told reporters she was optimistic.
“Although the weather is cold, I hope everyone participates in voting and opens the new era that people have been waiting for. I will await your decision with a humble mind. I believe the wise South Korean people will lead the way to the Republic of Korea's new era.”
Moon, a center-left candidate from the opposition Democratic United Party, voted in the southeastern port city of Busan.
“I have tried my best. I have done all I could and everything is at God's disposal. The only way for our citizens to change the world is to vote.”
Both candidates have promised to ease South Korea's income gap between rich and poor, which has widened during President Lee Myung-bak's five years in office.
Ms. Park has pledged dialogue with North Korea, but has taken a tougher stance on Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs.
North Korean defector Choi Young-hee, who escaped from Pyongyang in 2004, says she is disappointed by the hard-line stance President Lee's government took toward the North.
“Our earnest wish is unification. I have left my family in the North, survived a life-or-death crisis, and I cannot write a letter to them or see them. When unification is achieved, I hope that we get to meet our family and live a happy life. I believe the next president will make our earnest wish a reality.”
Park's father, who ruled the country for 18 years, is both admired for dragging the country out of poverty and reviled for his suppression of dissent. He was assassinated in 1979.