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(LEAD) S. Korea begins overseas voting for April 15 general elections amid coronavirus outbreak

All News 15:20 April 01, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES with more details from paras 3-4, 6-13)

SEOUL, April 1 (Yonhap) -- South Korea kicked off six days of overseas elections for the April parliamentary polls Wednesday, with only about half the eligible voters being allowed to cast ballots due to the new coronavirus.

The country will hold overseas voting for the April 15 general elections at polling stations from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Monday, according to the National Election Commission (NEC).

Of around 172,000 eligible voters, only some 50 percent will be allowed to cast ballots, as the watchdog has suspended election-related affairs in 51 countries due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The NEC has decided to halt the election-related process at 86 diplomatic missions in 51 countries, including the United States and Italy.

It plans to review the further suspension of polling affairs if more countries strengthen mobility restrictions or impose lockdowns.

(LEAD) S. Korea begins overseas voting for April 15 general elections amid coronavirus outbreak - 1

Overseas voting has started in diplomatic missions in Asia and Australia.

Officials at the overseas diplomatic missions have prepared hand sanitizers and plastic gloves, and set up thermal imaging cameras at polling stations to prevent the risk of infection.

"It was regrettable that I could not vote in the presidential elections (in May 2017), as I missed the registration period for overseas voting. I am so happy that I exercised my voting right," Kim Yi-jong, the first voter to cast his ballots in Sydney, said.

In Japan, polling stations have been set up in 10 cities and areas, including Tokyo and Osaka.

As Japan has not imposed mobility restrictions, the voting has gone smoothly so far.

Voting stations also opened at the embassy in Beijing and diplomatic missions in nine Chinese cities and Hong Kong.

The election watchdog did not establish a polling station in the consulate in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the virus emerged in late December.

"Amid strict quarantine measures, including mobility restrictions, it is very difficult for voters outside Beijing to travel for voting," said an election official at the embassy in Beijing.

Some overseas Koreans have expressed regret over the watchdog's decision, saying the government has not made enough effort to protect voting rights. They said they should be allowed to vote via mail.

Some Koreans living in Germany have kicked off an online campaign calling for the right to vote, saying that except for Bavaria, 15 other federal states have not restricted people's movement.

Around 50 Korean residents in Germany and a group of progressive lawyers said they plan to file a complaint with South Korea's constitutional court over the NEC's decision. They will also seek a court injunction against it.

Kim Yi-jong (C) casts a ballot in Sydney for the April 15 parliamentary elections on April 1, 2020, becoming the first South Korean to do so, as South Korea began six days of overseas voting. (Yonhap)

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
(END)

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