Moon Jae-in of the liberal Democratic Party was elected South Korea's new president early Wednesday, with his five-year term set to begin shortly after confirmation of his victory by the election watchdog.
The 64-year-old won some 11.7 million, or 40.3 percent, of all votes counted as of 2:47 a.m., according to the National Election Commission (NEC).
He was followed by Hong Joon-pyo of the conservative Liberty Korea Party, who had some 7.3 million votes, accounting for 25.04 percent of votes counted so far.
Less than 4 million out of 32.8 million votes cast in Tuesday's presidential election still remained uncounted.
The 32.8 million votes cast marked a turnout of 77.2 percent, the highest in a presidential election since 1997.
An exit poll showed him with 41.4 percent of all votes cast in the rare presidential by-election.
"I will build a new nation. I will make a great Korea, a proud Korea. And I will be the proud president of such a proud nation," the president-elect said late Tuesday, declaring his victory even when less than half of all votes had been counted.
Hong was quick to accept defeat as the election had been widely been considered tilted in favor of Moon and other liberal candidates.
"If the outcome of the exit poll is true, I will be happy to have rebuilt the party that had collapsed," Hong said.
Hong's former ruling party, previously called the Saenuri Party, was split in two following the defection of 33 lawmakers who backed the parliamentary impeachment of then-President Park Geun-hye over a corruption scandal.
Ahn Cheol-soo of the center-left People's Party was set to finish third with 21.5 percent of the votes.
"I humbly accept the people's choice. I hope for the Republic of Korea to move forward into the future," he told a press conference Tuesday, referring to his country by its official name.
The rare presidential by-election was called in the wake of the March 10 ouster of former President Park Geun-hye over a range of corruption allegations that have led to her arrest and indictment.
With the country's top elected office currently vacant, Moon's single five-year term will begin immediately after the NEC confirms his victory in a meeting scheduled to be held before 10 a.m.
He was set to be sworn in as the country's 19th president in a small, makeshift inauguration ceremony at the National Assembly, involving National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Yang Sung-tae. (Yonhap)