Kim Dae-jung, South Korea's veteran opposition leader, has won the presidential race and the daunting job of restoring the nation's economy.
With 89 percent of the ballots counted from Thursday's election, state-owned KBS-TV declared Kim victorious.
Kim's chief rival, Lee Hoi-chang, had been close on Kim's heels throughout the race, but Lee conceded defeat late Thursday.
Anxious voters crowded around outdoor television monitors late Thursday as Kim Dae-jung was declared South Korea's new President.
The victory marks the first time an opposition candidate has prevailed over the tightly-knit political alliances that have ruled South Korea since its founding in 1948.
Kim's closest rival, Lee Hoi-chang of the ruling party, conceded defeat saying he would accept the will of the electorate, and would cooperate with the winner.
State-owned KBS-TV said its unofficial count of 89 percent of the ballots from today's election gave Kim 40.3 percent to 38.6 percent for Lee Hoi-chang.
The other two major networks reported similar figures.
The state election committee also had Kim winning, although its count was far behind.
The third major candidate, Rhee In-je, once touted himself as a protege of the president.
Rhee was the spoiler, taking a large number of votes that likely would have gone to Lee.
Rhee, who split from the ruling party after losing its nomination to Lee, had 19.3
percent, KBS reported.
Kim was once persecuted by military dictators and spent almost eight years in jail or under house arrest, and another four in exile in the 1970s and 1980s. The leaders saw his populist ideas as a threat.
Voters have been hoping for economic salvation from the candidates, but none offered any concrete, detailed plans for reviving South Korea's shattered economy.
Voter turnout was heavy. The final nationwide turnout figure was 80.6 per cent.
"I believe Lee Hoi-chang is able to lead us into the 21st century. That's why I chose Lee Hoi-chang."
SUPER CAPTION: Vox Pop
"Kim Dae-jung will bypass Lee Hoi-chang in terms of votes because Lee Hoi-chang has problems regarding military service of his sons."
SUPER CAPTION: Vox Pop
62-year-old Lee leaned heavily on his reputation for incorruptibility to win the nomination of the ruling party.
But his campaign was damaged by allegations that his two sons avoided South Korea's mandatory military service while Lee served as the nation's youngest Supreme Court justice in the early 1990s.
Late Thursday, prior to the final results being announced, Kim was careful not to declare victory.
"I am being told that I am leading the polls but we can't be too sure right now, however the outcome of this election will determine whether Korea will enjoy true democracy."
SUPER CAPTION: Kim Dae-jung, presidential candidate
All of the candidates had turned out to the polls earlier in the day.
Both Kim and his wife were in Seoul voting before photographers on Thursday morning.
Lee and his wife also stopped for a photo opportunity.
At 49, Rhee was the youngest major candidate and he appealed to a number of mostly youthful voters.
Final results are expected to be tallied over the next several hours.