Early voting is underway at a polling station made in Jung-gu, central Seoul, on Friday. (Yonhap)
Early voting started for the 20th presidential election on Friday, with candidates and political heavyweights casting their votes to encourage more voters to participate.
The National Election Commission on Friday opened early voting at 3,552 polling stations across the country, and eyes are on how high the turnout would be in the continued dead heat race between the two main candidates.
Polling stations will open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday. COVID-19 patients and those under self-quarantine are allowed to cast their ballots early if they arrive at a polling station between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. Saturday.
By 1 p.m., the turnout for early voting reached 8.75 percent, or close to 3.87 million voters, out of the 44.2 million who are eligible. It is the highest-ever figure recorded for any elections in the same time slot.
Presidential nominee Lee Jae-myung of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea cast his vote in Jung-gu, central Seoul, telling reporters that he will win and “firmly open the path of unity, economy and peace.”
Lee is believed to have chosen the area near Gwanghwamun Square to appeal to voters that he will uphold the spirit of the candlelight demonstrations held in South Korea until 2017 to denounce former President Park Geun-hye and eventually led to her impeachment.
“I thought of the numerous people who held candles and gathered in Gwanghwamun and the city hall,” Lee said in a meeting with reporters after casting his vote.
“The criteria of selection in this presidential election are overcoming the economic crisis, bringing peace and pursuing unity.”
Lee’s main rival Yoon Suk-yeol of the main opposition People Power Party cast his vote in Busan before visiting the United Nations Memorial Cemetery in the city to pay tribute to soldiers who fought in the Korean War.
Friday marked exactly one year after Yoon resigned from his seat as prosecutor general in open defiance of the Moon Jae-in administration. He said he had decided to quit because it became impossible for him to execute the law “when free democracy, rule of law, justice and common sense crumbled down.”
Busan and its surrounding areas are touted as a hotspot for conservative voters in South Korea, but the region has seen support for the conservative faction and candidates fall in recent years as the Democratic Party increased its presence in the area.
Yoon’s move is seen as an attempt to appeal to these voters and assure that the People Power Party dominates votes in the area. The People Power Party also believes that a high early voting turnout will work in favor of Yoon, as it was the case for the conservative party in last year’s mayoral by-elections.
“Early voting is a must for the people to overturn the regime and find new hope,” Yoon told reporters after his visit to the cemetery. “I ask many to take part in early voting.”
Rep. Sim Sang-jung cast her vote in Seoul before heading to campaign rallies down south, telling reporters afterward that “this election is an election of grand transformation from a politics of vested interests to a multiparty coalition government of responsibility.”
Moon cast his ballot with first lady Kim Jung-sook inside a polling station in Jongno-gu, central Seoul, near the presidential office, encouraging people to head to the polls and exercise their voting rights.
Early voting is available for the March 9 presidential election and by-elections for five parliamentary seats.
By Ko Jun-tae (email@example.com