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High turnout indicates hopes for change

Oct. 27, 2011 - 01:03 By Shin Hae-in
Nearly 50 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots in the Seoul mayoral by-election Wednesday, seemingly indicating their desire for change as the presidential race draws closer.

Turnout was more than 48 percent, according to the election watchdog, with more than 4 million out of the 8.3 million Seoul voters turning up at polling stations. The turnout for 11 other posts in smaller local municipalities stood at 46 percent, the National Election Commission said.

The higher-than-expected turnout in a workday election indicates voters’ hope for new policies different from those of former Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon, who stepped down after losing a free school lunch referendum, observers say.

Results of Wednesday’s by-elections are expected to have an impact on the political power structure in the run up to more important elections next year. The race for the Seoul office, left vacant since Mayor Oh resigned after losing his free school meals referendum, was seen as especially important as more than a fifth of the nation’s population lives in Seoul.

With a 45 percent turnout regarded as the tipping point, a higher rate was expected to favor liberal candidate Park Won-soon, more popular among progressive younger voters.

More voters appear to have come to the poll stations with the belief their choice “could make an actual difference to the final outcome” with the two Seoul mayoral candidates going neck-and-neck during the campaign, an official at the election watchdog said.

Also, Park Geun-hye, an influential politician who is seen as the strongest Grand National Party contender to be next president, and star IT entrepreneur Ahn Cheol-soo appear to have drawn more voters to polls with their popularity, the official said, asking not to be named.

Park, former chairwoman of the GNP, and Ahn supported ruling party candidate Na Kyung-won and liberal Park Won-soon, respectively.

Their urging of young voters to take part in the elections is also seen as another reason for higher-than-expected turnout. Famous movie stars, singers and other TV stars have been asking voters via social network services such as Twitter to vote.

Wednesday polls opened at 6 a.m. and closed at 8 p.m. with turnout especially high among voters living in the city’s three well-off districts in southern Seoul including Seocho.

By Shin Hae-in (