Voters hit the polls in parliamentary elections in S Korea

Voters hit the polls in parliamentary elections in S Korea
Photo credit: Yonhap

South Koreans went to the polls Wednesday in crucial parliamentary elections that could determine whether President Yoon Suk Yeol will fall into a lame duck situation or be able to move his agenda forward with legislative support during the remaining three years in office, Yonhap reports.

Voting kicked off at 6 a.m. and was to run until 6 p.m. at 14,259 polling stations across the nation, according to the National Election Commission. After last week's early voting, just over 30 million people are eligible to cast their ballots in the main vote.

Public interest is high in this year's elections as shown in the record 31.28 turnout in early voting held Friday and Saturday, the first time the early-voting turnout for general elections has exceeded 30 percent since South Korea introduced the system in 2014.

As of 9 a.m., some 3.07 million of the total voters, or 6.9 percent, had cast their ballots, 1.1 percentage points lower than the corresponding figure in the previous elections four years ago, according to the election watchdog.

Up for grabs are 300 National Assembly seats.

Widespread expectations are that the main opposition Democratic Party (DP) would win more seats than the ruling People Power Party (PPP), with some even talking about the possibility of the broader opposition bloc taking more than 200 seats combined.

The quadrennial race carries extra weight for the ruling party as a failure to regain a majority could potentially render the Yoon administration a lame duck for the remaining three years of his single five-year term, ending in 2027.

The PPP has pleaded for voter support, imploring that the Yoon administration has been unable to push its reform agenda properly forward for the past two years due to the uncooperative parliament under opposition control.

The DP, on the other hand, has urged voters to pass stern judgment on what it calls the "incompetent" Yoon administration, accusing it of causing the economy and the livelihoods of the people to worsen seriously and mishandling a series of controversial issues for the past two years.

Many surveys taken before the blackout period, which began Thursday, have shown that DP candidates were ahead of their PPP counterparts in many districts, including even in some PPP stronghold regions in the country's southeast, albeit within the margins of error.

What is also notable was the surprisingly high support that the Rebuilding Korea Party, newly launched by scandal-tainted former Justice Minister Cho Kuk, has garnered with calls for bringing an early end to the Yoon administration.

That could suggest the calls for passing judgment on the Yoon administration are getting through.

"Please vote to prevent the political force that has betrayed the people from attaining a parliamentary majority," DP leader Lee Jae-myung said on the eve of the elections, before attending a hearing at the Seoul Central District Court on corruption charges that he claims were fabricated.

Should the broader opposition bloc win more than 200 seats in the 300-member National Assembly, it would give opposition parties a two-thirds majority strong enough to override presidential vetoes and even to impeach the president.

"Please give us a minimum number of seats that we can use to keep this immoral and shameless opposition in check," PPP leader Han Dong-hoon said on the eve of the elections. "Overwhelming support on Election Day is needed to prevent the Republic of Korea from falling into a state of decline."

But some observers say the DP cannot anticipate a comfortable landslide victory because what the media has dubbed "shy" conservative voters can turn out in large numbers to cast their ballots, prodded by a sense of urgency.

The record-high turnout for early voting has also drawn attention to whether the final turnout would surpass 70 percent. The turnout in the previous 2020 general elections stood at 66.2 percent.

Observers highlight the 48 constituencies in Seoul as the primary battlegrounds that will ultimately determine the election outcome, as data suggests that results in Seoul often mirror the overall election results.

Another focus of attention is also on how the newly created minor parties would fare, such as the Rebuilding Korea Party led by Cho; the New Future Party (Saemirae), formed by former Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon; and the New Reform Party led by ousted former PPP leader Lee Jun-seok.

Exit polls will be available starting at 6:30 p.m.

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