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S. Koreans go to the polls

  • Story Highlights
  • South Koreans vote Wednesday for a new president
  • Frontrunner, a former Hyundai CEO, is facing renewed allegations of fraud
  • Economy and real estate prices have been key issues, not North Korea
  • Winner will take over from Roh Moo-Hyun
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From Sohn Jie-Ae
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SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) -- South Korean voters Wednesday are choosing between a presidential frontrunner who faces renewed fraud allegations and two opponents who have failed to capture the public's imagination.

Until this week, it seemed that the election would be a slam dunk for Lee Myung-Bak, of the opposition Grand National Party, who has been comfortably leading the pack of presidential hopefuls.

Then, on Monday, the National Assembly voted to investigate accusations of fraud against Lee after political opponents released a video clip of him saying he founded an investment company that's at the center of stock manipulation charges.

Lee's political opponents were quick to strike.

"Voting for Lee is the same as voting for a lie," said Chung Dong-Young, the candidate of the ruling United New Democratic Party.

Lee has repeatedly denied any involvement with the company, and prosecutors earlier this month cleared him of similar charges.

"I've never once been troubled by any kind of corruption in my life, and I've received the support and recognition of the nation accordingly," Lee said after the new investigation was announced. But Lee did admit he had made "incorrect statements."

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Lee, a 65-year-old former Seoul mayor and Hyundai executive, broke out from the pack of candidates by virtue of his compelling rags-to-riches life story and his business background.

He collected trash to put himself through college, then rose to become one of the youngest CEOs of Hyundai Construction, earning himself the nickname "The Bulldozer."

Chung, 54, is a former television news anchor and unification minister who has been running a distant second in the race, with an approval rating 20 percentage points behind Lee.

Running as an independent is Lee Hoi-Chang, 72. He is considered the most conservative of the top three presidential hopefuls.

The winner will take over from Roh Moo-Hyun. Roh won the presidency with promises of reform and clean governance, but his five-year term has been marred by scandal, with a string of Cabinet officials forced to resign over corruption allegations and Roh himself surviving an impeachment attempt in 2004.

At the same time, he improved relations with North Korea and became only the second South Korean president to meet with his counterpart in the North. Watch what a Lee victory could mean for North-South Korea relations Video

Ethical questions have dogged Lee throughout the year. But in a campaign where economic issues have been on the minds of many South Korean voters, Lee's corporate resume has given him the upper hand.

Critics have challenged Roh's economic policies, saying he raised taxes, created higher unemployment and caused real estate prices to soar.

People like 41-year-old office worker Hong Sung-Jun is tired of paying too much taxes.

"I want someone who is going to keep a close eye on the economy," he says.


Others that CNN talked to on Seoul streets complained about how young Koreans could not get jobs or the soaring real estate prices.

The issue of relations with North Korea has not been a major factor for the voters, largely because most analysts believe there will not be any significant change in South Korea's stance, whoever becomes president. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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