South Koreans wait in line to cast their votes for a presidential election at a polling station in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012. Huge crowds turned out Wednesday to vote in the tight presidential race pitting the son of North Korean refugees against the conservative daughter of a late dictator. (AP Photo/Yonhap, Shin Jun-hee) KOREA OUT
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Surveys released after polls closed in South Korea's hard-fought presidential election Wednesday indicated the race to replace unpopular incumbent Lee Myung-bak was too close to call.
One exit poll found that Park Geun-Hye, the conservative daughter of a late dictator, had a slight lead over Moon Jae-in, the liberal son of North Korean refugees. But another survey gave Moon a slight edge.
Huge crowds lined up in frigid weather to choose between two candidates who promised to move away from Lee's policies, even though Park belongs to Lee's party. Park and Moon agree that the country needs greater engagement with rival North Korea, despite a controversial rocket launch last week.
Turnout was higher than in past elections, which analysts said might have lifted Moon, who is more popular with younger voters. Park's conservative base is comprised mainly of older voters who remember with fondness what they see as the firm economic and security guidance of her dictator father, Park Chung-hee.
An exit poll jointly sponsored by TV stations KBS, MBC and SBS showed conservative candidate Park won 50.1 percent of the vote, compared to Moon's 48.9 percent. The stations said, however, that the gap was within the plus-or-minus 0.8 percent margin of error, and official results released later Wednesday could be different.
A telephone survey by YTN television network said Moon got between 49.7 and 53.3 percent, while Park received between 46.1 and 49.9 percent.
For all their differences, Moon, who was chief of staff to late liberal President Roh Moo-hyun, and Park hold similar views on the need to engage with Pyongyang and other issues.
Many voters are dissatisfied with Lee, and Park has had to tack to the center in her bid to become South Korea's first woman president.
Many voters blame inter-Korean tension for encouraging North Korea to conduct nuclear and missile tests — including a rocket launch by Pyongyang that outsiders call a cover for a banned long-range missile test. Some also say ragged North-South relations led to two attacks blamed on Pyongyang that killed 50 South Koreans in 2010.
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