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He is widely seen as a business-friendly candidate and has raised the issue of lifting investment restrictions on conglomerates, a move that might allow them to own banks.

Shareholder rights groups are horrified, seeing this as a moral hazard.

Mr. Lee is expected to be more pro-American than Mr. Roh or his predecessor Kim Dae-jung, but questions remain over his apparent lack of international political or diplomatic expertise.

His policies on North Korea are not clear, though he has pledged to accelerate economic cooperation if Pyongyang ends its nuclear program.

A campaign promise to build a mammoth canal from Seoul in the northwest to Pusan in the southeast has been criticized for recalling his glory days as Seoul’s mayor rather being a viable project.

The left-wing Hankyoreh newspaper warned, “Tough road lies ahead for Lee Myung-bak.”

Personal ethics — a make-or-break issue for Korean politicians — could be his downfall.

Reports that relatives earned up to $28 million in real estate speculation, a sensitive issue in egalitarian South Korea, hang over him.

“He is being portrayed as ‘old development’ and I think he may be more divisive than Park Geun-hye,” said one Roh adviser, speaking on the condition of anonymity.