Moon Jae-in, a former human rights lawyer and political veteran, is set to become South Korea’s new leader according to exit polls, in a historic election that paves the way for the country to return to stability after months of turmoil.

His likely election fills a leadership vacuum created following the impeachment of president Park Geun-hye over corruption allegations in March. It has also ends nine years of conservative rule by Ms Park and her predecessor Lee Myung-bak.

Early indications suggest Mr Moon garnered more than 41 per cent the vote, defeating his two main rivals — Hong Joon-pyo, a conservative from Ms Park’s party and former provincial governor, and Ahn Cheol-soo, a centrist with the People’s party and former software mogul.

The election is expected to have record turnout after Ms Park’s impeachment fuelled an apparent surge in civic spirit.

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