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(6th LD) Tentative voter turnout at 28-year high of 66.2 pct despite coronavirus

Politics 22:59 April 15, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES with analysis of high turnout, background)

SEOUL, April 15 (Yonhap) -- Voter turnout for South Korea's parliamentary elections Wednesday soared to 66.2 percent, the highest point in 28 years, according to a tentative figure released by the state election body.

It came amid the country's monthslong fight against the coronavirus, which has triggered a sense of health and quarantine crises and apparently drew keen attention to politics.

Among 44 million eligible voters, 29.1 million cast their ballots at 14,330 polling stations nationwide, the National Election Commission (NEC) said, adding that the figure includes anti-coronavirus self-isolators allowed to go out briefly to vote. The NEC said it's not yet the final data.

The turnout represents the highest in the country's quadrennial general elections since 71.9 percent was recorded in 1992.

It was tallied at 58 percent in 2016, 54.2 percent in 2012 and 46.1 percent in 2008.

In the 2017 presidential poll, 77.2 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots, and 60.2 percent voted in last year's local elections.

The relatively high turnout was viewed as reflecting South Koreans' increased interest in politics due in part to the coronavirus outbreak.

The number of daily infections has been relatively low in recent weeks as well, as the national social distancing campaign is still in place.

"A large number of people appear to have gone to the polls with the perception that their voting can play an important role in overcoming the national crisis of COVID-19," Yoo Yong-hwa, a professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul, said.

The ruling Democratic Party called for public support for stable state affairs for the remaining two years of the Moon Jae-in administration. The main opposition United Future Party appealed to voters for support to address what it claims to be the government's mishandling of quarantining.

Few would deny that fierce rivalry between the two parties amid polarized politics nudged their traditional supporters to be active in voting.

A political controversy over "emergency diaster relief payments" for the nation's households hit by the economic fallout of the pandemic drew keen public attention as well.

NEC officials also cited the positive effect of early voting. More than 11 million people voted in advance last Friday and Saturday.

"It seems like the turnout has hit such a high level driven by (public) confidence that South Korea can overcome such a national difficulty as COVID-19 and the record high early voting turnout," an NEC official said.

It showed that the early ballot system, introduced in 2012, is taking root.

This photo, taken on April 15, 2020, shows a polling booth to be exclusively used by voters under self-isolation due to symptoms of the new coronavirus outside a polling station in Seoul's Jongno Ward, as South Korea holds general elections the same day amid the outbreak of the new coronavirus. The voters under self-isolation are allowed to cast ballots after 6 p.m., when the voting ends. (Yonhap)

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