Koreans are going to the polls to elect a new president with the hope the person they choose this time will be different from -- better, to be exact -- those in the past.
The abnormality of the election itself -- a by-election to fill the leadership void created by the first-ever impeachment of a sitting president, adds to the importance of selecting the best possible candidate from a list of 13.
Most of all, the next president should be less divisive and less confrontational, because one of the most urgent tasks faced by the nation is to get the worst-ever presidential scandal behind it and achieve unity as soon as possible.
The new president should heal the divide widened during the political crisis caused by former President Park Geun-hye and her Svengali -- Choi Soon-sil -- which had gripped the nation for months and hung over the campaign like an apparition.
Each voter should consider whether the person they cast a ballot for is the one better positioned to cope with key national challenges, not least of all security threats from North Korea and the economy. The nation also needs reforms in many areas. During the campaign, candidates gave us both hopes and concerns in this regard.
Besides being hastily arranged due to the impeachment, the campaign departed from the past in many respects. Changes included the first early voting for a presidential election and relaxation of the ban on posting photographs online related to casting ballots.
Coming on the heels of mass anti-Park and pro-Park protests, these and other changes have helped boost interest in politics and participation in the election. One good example is that 26 percent of voters cast ballots in two days of early voting, about twice the number at the most recent parliamentary and local elections.
The most significant difference, of course, is that the election was caused by the removal of an unpopular president from office, so the playing field was uneven from the start.
With the conservative bloc in an unprecedented crisis and lacking a strong right-wing candidate, traditional conservatives opposing front-runner liberal Moon Jae-in wandered from candidate to candidate. Conservative voters shifted their support to moderate liberal Ahn Cheol-soo when former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon dropped out of the race and another moderate liberal An Hee-jung lost the party nomination to Moon. Hard-line conservative Hong Joon-pyo’s surge in the last weeks was also attributed to conservative voters’ shift.
One positive notable part of the campaign is that the crisis in the conservative camp resulted in boosting pluralism in the presidential election, and politics as a whole.
Past presidential races were duels pitting a conservative candidate whose party’s political base was in the southeastern provinces against a liberal contender whose party’s turf was the rival southwestern provinces. This time, it was obvious such a bipolarization has improved to a certain degree.
For instance, Ahn fared well in the southwest, which otherwise would have given overwhelming support to Moon. For his part, Moon also gained a foothold in the southeast in the wake of dwindling support for conservatives there.
One more positive aspect of the campaign is it went on without a last-minute alliance among any of the five major candidates. Some suggested that if elected, they would include people from rival parties in the new government, but none of the five -- including underdogs Yoo Seong-min and Sim Sang-jeung -- dropped out of the race.
Along with Ahn, Yoo, a reformist conservative, and Sim, a far leftist, contributed to diversifying the ideological and partisan spectrum of the presidential election that otherwise would have been a duel between Moon and Hong.
The five-way race certainly has contributed to boosting pluralism in Korean politics and mitigated deep-rooted bipolarization caused by ideological and regional divides. Every vote, including those going to the fourth and fifth placed candidates, matters in that regard.