How Moon Jae-in rose from impoverished childhood to become South Korea’s president
Moon is a child of North Korean parents who settled in the South during the 1950-53 Korean war
Moon Jae-in, who won Tuesday’s South Korean presidential election, has led a life as turbulent as that of the nation he will lead.
The son of refugees who fled North Korea during the 1950-53 Korean War, Moon, 64, grew up in poverty and spent time in jail for protesting military-backed dictators. Moon later became a human rights lawyer and worked for the late liberal President Roh Moo-hyun, a friend and mentor who eventually committed suicide.
“I will become the president of all the people,” he said, vowing to “never forget people’s wishes and aspirations.”
“It’s a great victory by a great people,” Moon told crowd of party officials and fervent supporters who celebrated his win. “I’ll gather all of my energy to build a new nation.”
Moon’s North Korean parents resettled in South Korea’s southeast before he was born in January 1953. They initially lived in a POW camp.
As a boy, he often went to a Catholic church with a bucket to get free US corn flour and milk powder.
After entering Seoul’s’ Kyung Hee University in 1972, Moon joined a pro-democracy movement to topple the dictatorship of Park Chung-hee, who ruled South Korea for 18 years until his 1979 assassination. Park is the father of recently ousted conservative President Park Geun-hye, who was driven from power by a corruption scandal.
In 1975, Moon was jailed for months for staging anti-government protests before being conscripted into the military’s special forces.
Moon became a lawyer and joined Roh’s law office in the early 1980s. They defended the rights of poor labourers and student activists until Roh entered politics in 1988.
Moon says their friendship changed his life.
After Roh became president in 2003, Moon became what local media called Moon’s “King secretary” or “Roh Moo-hyun’s shadow.”
When Roh was impeached in 2004 over alleged election law violations, Moon served as a defence lawyer before a court restored Roh’s presidential power. After Roh left office and faced a corruption investigation, Moon was his lawyer. Roh jumped to his death in May 2009.
Moon says Roh’s death led him to politics. Moon lost the 2012 election to Park Geun-hye by a million votes.
When a corruption scandal involving Park flared last fall, Moon saw his popularity rise amid massive public outrage toward her conservative government.
“I hope today becomes the day to open the door for a new Republic of Korea,” Moon told the jubilant party officials and supporters after visiting the party’s main office.