(ATTN: UPDATES with latest voting turnout in paras 3, 5)
SEOUL, April 2 (Yonhap) -- Voters headed to polling stations Friday as two-day early voting kicked off ahead of next week's by-elections for mayors of the country's two biggest cities.
Early voting began at 6 a.m. and will last till Saturday evening at 722 polling stations ahead of the election day on Wednesday. Besides the two mayoral seats in Seoul and Busan, two regional administrative posts and 17 seats on regional legislative councils are also up for grabs.
On the first day, 1.11 million of the total 12.16 million eligible voters had cast ballots for a turnout rate of 9.14 percent, according to the National Election Commission.
President Moon Jae-in and first lady Kim Jung-sook also cast their ballots at a polling station near Cheong Wa Dae. It took only five minutes, according to his office.
Turnout came to 9.65 percent in Seoul, where some 8.4 million people are eligible to vote in the mayoral by-election, while 8.63 percent of slightly more than 2.9 million eligible voters in Busan took part in the advance voting.
The corresponding turnout rate during the first day of early voting for the previous parliamentary elections in April last year was 10.93 percent. A record-high 26.69 percent of voters cast ballots in the two-day early voting for the 2020 general elections.
Rival parties made last-minute pleas for their supports and strained to drum up turnout in advance voting.
"I plead with you to recognize our efforts for reforms despite your reproach," Rep. Lee Nak-yon, a former leader of the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and an incumbent co-chair of the party's election committee, said during a party meeting.
"(The DP) will thoroughly look back (on its wrongdoings) and (come up with) policy alternatives through consultation with the government," Lee said, continuing with the party's mea culpa approach as an election strategy.
The conservative main opposition People Power Party (PPP)'s chief Kim Chong-in issued an official statement addressed to the public, rallying voters' support for the party's election campaign to "pass a judgment" against the ruling bloc's policy failures.
"Have any people's livelihoods, the future of the country, rule of law or democracy made progress at all?" Kim asked. "I urge you to vote without fail so as to block the tyranny of the Moon Jae-in government."
One of the most recent opinion polls, conducted by Realmeter on Tuesday and Wednesday, showed Oh Se-hoon, the PPP's Seoul mayoral candidate, leading his rival from the DP, Park Young-sun, 57.5 percent to 36 percent.
In Busan as well, PPP mayoral candidate Park Heong-joon was maintaining his solid lead over DP rival Kim Young-choon in recent opinion polls.
No prior registration is needed for voters to cast their ballots during the two-day early voting period. The ballot boxes from early voting will be opened and counted along with those collected on the election day, once all the voting processes come to an end.
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