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Parties make last-minute appeals to voters

Undetered by virus risks, Koreans to elect members of parliament in world’s first pandemic election

Election officials prepare for ballot counting (Yonhap)
Election officials prepare for ballot counting (Yonhap)

With masks and gloves on, Koreans go to the polls to elect their parliamentary representatives in nationwide elections Wednesday, becoming the first country to do so amid a global virus pandemic.

With 300 seats up for grabs, the ruling and main opposition parties concentrated on the capital area on Tuesday, in a last-minute attempt to sway voters on the last day of election campaigns.

With 121 of 253 constituencies located in Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi Province, the three regions are considered critical to overall victory in the general elections.

While some polls have shown the ruling Democratic Party of Korea to have a lead in the region, the party remained cautious, and called for voters’ support.

“This general election is an election that will decide how to overcome the COVID-19 crisis and the coming economic crisis,” Democratic Party Chairman Rep. Lee Hae-chan said Tuesday.

Going on to say that the outcome of the general elections remains difficult to predict, Lee Hae-chan urged voters to support the party’s candidates as well as the Citizen Party.

The Citizen Party is a proportional representation group established by the ruling party in response to the main opposition United Future Party’s founding of the Future Korea Party.

Lee Nak-yon, former prime minister and co-chair of the Democratic Party’s election committee who is also running for Seoul’s Jongno constituency, echoed the party chairman, saying that the ruling bloc taking a “stable (number of) seats” is essential for effective response to the crisis.

As for the United Future Party, the main opposition also fielded its heavyweights in Seoul and Gyeonggi Province on the last day of the campaign period.

Doing the rounds in various Seoul constituencies, the United Future Party’s election committee chief Kim Chong-in concentrated on highlighting the shortcomings of the current administration.

Saying the general elections will determine the future of the country, Kim said Election Day on Wednesday is “the day of passing judgement for the economic crisis,” echoing the statement he released earlier in the day. In the statement, Kim said the general elections are the last chance to rein in the Moon Jae-in administration and prepare for the economic fallout of the pandemic.

United Future Party Chairman Hwang Kyo-ahn took a similar approach in this campaign for Jongno.

“The Democratic Party is elated, projecting 180 seats. If (the Democratic Party) takes 180 seats despite having ruined the country, then the future of this country is despair,” Hwang said at a press conference.

As parties scramble to make their last appeals, this year’s early voting has seen record turnout.

According to the National Election Commission, 26.69 percent of voters participated in early voting. In comparison, participation in early voting in the 2016 general elections came to 12.19 percent.

Both the ruling and main opposition parties have taken the early turnout as a favorable sign for their campaigns.

On Monday, the United Future Party’s Kim Chong-in claimed that high early voting participation in Seoul and surrounding regions has been favorable for the opposition, saying he was “relatively encouraged” by the turnout.

Such an assessment was echoed by the ruling party, whose chairman assessed the turnout as a sign that voters have answered the party’s pleas.
 
By Choi He-suk (cheesuk@heraldcorp.com)
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