Former Seoul mayor wins opposition party nomination for presidential race

SEOUL, South Korea (AP)

A South Korean businessman-turned-politician won the conservative opposition’s presidential primary Monday, cementing his front-runner status in the December election to take leadership of the country from liberals aligned with President Roh Moo-hyun.

Lee Myung-bak, a former Hyundai CEO and Seoul mayor, is already leading in national opinion polls as the country has grown weary of Roh’s leadership amid a sagging economy.

In the primary, Lee beat Park Geun-hye _ daughter of a former military ruler who would have been the country’s first-ever female president _ by 81,084 votes to 78,632.

Voting in the primary included some 185,000 party delegates, ordinary members and selected citizens, and their ballots were combined with the outcome of an opinion poll of about 6,000 people to determine the winner.

“The GNP and I will hold hands with all who wish to join in our goals to achieve regime change and build a world-leading country,” Lee said to the cheers of supporters chanting his name at a Seoul auditorium.

Support for President Roh has plummeted amid spreading economic malaise in the fast-developing country, where spiraling living and real estate costs has left citizens feeling their paychecks are not stretching as far as they once did.

Lee is viewed as a businessman who can fix the economy, having spent 15 years at the helm of various companies in the Hyundai Group. While Seoul mayor from 2002-2006, he pushed through an ambitious project to rejuvenate downtown Seoul and uncover a long-hidden stream to create a new cultural oasis in the capital.