South Korea’s ruling liberal party secured a resounding victory in parliamentary elections that had the highest turnout in nearly three decades, despite the coronavirus forcing social distancing at polling places.
The ruling Democratic Party and a satellite party it created to win proportional representative seats combined to win 180 seats in the 300-seat National Assembly, election officials said Thursday. Conservatives suffered their worst showing in the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area in years.
The comfortable majority will likely embolden President Moon Jae-in’s government to pursue its key domestic and foreign objectives, such as reviving diplomacy with nuclear-armed rival North Korea, while it grapples with the pandemic that is shuttering businesses and threatening livelihoods.
Moon thanked the country’s “great people” for “giving strength to a government that’s fighting desperately to overcome a national crisis.”
More than 17 million South Koreans voted on Wednesday. When combined with the 11.8 million early and mailed-in votes, turnout was 66.2 percent, the highest since 71.9 percent turnout in a 1992 general election, the National Election Commission said.
The voting drew sharp contrasts with upended election cycles in the United States and Europe and possibly set an example for how democratic elections can be handled during the pandemic.
Health officials described the election as a crucial experiment as they discuss more sustainable forms of social distancing that allow for some communal and economic activity while containing the risk of infection. But they acknowledged it would take at least a week to assess the election’s impact on the epidemic.
While South Korea is just three years removed from mass protests that led to the ouster of Moon’s corrupt conservative predecessor, public displays of the country’s dynamic democracy were largely muted this year as candidates, wearing masks and gloves, avoided large rallies and handshakes.
Before the virus began absorbing public attention, Moon’s support was faltering over a decaying job market, corruption scandals surrounding key political allies, and troubled ties with North Korea.
But surveys ahead of the polls indicated growing support for his government, reflecting public approval of an aggressive test-and-quarantine program credited with lowering fatality rates compared to China and some places in Europe and North America. As of Thursday, South Korea reported more than 10,600 people infected with 229 confirmed deaths.
South Korea’s electorate is deeply split along ideological and generational lines and regional loyalties. But surveys since infections surged in late February showed swing voters in their 20s and 50s expressing stronger willingness to vote, said Jeong Han-wool from Hankook Research, an opinion-research firm in Seoul.
Park Sung-min, president of Seoul-based MIN Consulting, a political consulting firm, said a sense of urgency over the coronavirus drove more people to the polls. He said the conservatives failed to establish themselves as a viable alternative, squabbling internally over agendas and candidate selections.
Hwang Kyo-ahn, who led the conservative United Future Party, stepped down as chairman after losing in a key Seoul district to Democratic Party candidate Lee Nak-yeon, a former prime minister who emerged as a front-runner for the 2022 presidential race. Hwang, also an ex-prime minister, apologized to supporters for “failing to prevent the country from going in the wrong direction at an important time.”
The massive loss will raise new questions about the South Korean right’s ability to rebuild after the impeachment of Park Geun-hye, the previous conservative president.
South Korean election and health officials prepared safeguards to reduce the risk of the virus being spread during the voting.
Masks were worn by voters and poll workers. A meter (3 feet) of social distancing space was marked from nearby streets all the way to the ballot booths. Voters who passed a fever screening were given sanitizing gel and disposable plastic gloves before entering booths. Anyone with a fever was whisked to a separate area to vote.
More than 11,150 people formally quarantined in their homes were escorted or monitored through tracking apps while they cast their ballots later than other voters. Workers dressed in full protective suits sanitized the booths after each vote. Those hospitalized or in isolation or quarantine could vote by mail or at temporary shelters during early voting last week.
The controls weren’t perfect. Park Jong-hyun, an official from the Ministry of the Interior and Safety, said at least six quarantined voters wandered around after leaving home to cast their ballots. Officials planned to bring charges against at least one of them who visited a billiard club and a computer gaming room.
South Korea legislative election features surprising turnout despite coronavirus (CBC)
In a surprisingly high turnout, millions of South Korean voters wore masks and moved slowly between lines of tape at polling stations on Wednesday to elect lawmakers in the shadow of the spreading coronavirus.
The election was closely watched around the world as one of the first nationwide votes since the epidemic began. The coronavirus has caused delays in many other political calendars.
The government resisted calls to postpone the parliamentary elections billed as a midterm referendum on President Moon Jae-in, who enters the final two years of his single five-year term grappling with a historic public health crisis that is unleashing massive economic shock.
While South Korea's electorate is deeply divided along ideological and generational lines and regional loyalties, recent surveys showed growing support for Moon and his liberal party, reflecting the public's approval of an aggressive test-and-quarantine program so far credited for lower fatality rates for the coronavirus compared to China, Europe and North America.
Exit polls conducted by TV stations indicated that Moon's Democratic Party and a satellite party it created to win proportional representative seats would comfortably combine for a majority in the 300-seat National Assembly.
"We are going through difficult times, but the coronavirus and politics are two different things," said one voter, Lee Kum.
Another Seoul resident, Chung Eun-young, said she arrived at her polling station just after 6 a.m. to avoid crowds.
"I was worried about the coronavirus," she said. "They checked my temperature and handed me gloves, but it wasn't as bothersome as I thought it would be. … I don't like what we are going through, but I cast my ballot to prevent the wrong candidates from getting elected."
The long lines that snaked around public offices and schools followed record-high participation in early voting held on Friday and Saturday, and defied expectations of low turnout to minimize social contact.
Special voting time for those in quarantine
In an initial count, the National Election Commission said more than 17.2 million people voted Wednesday. Combined with the 11.8 million who cast their ballots during early voting or by mail, the overall turnout was 66.2 per cent, the highest since the 71.9 per cent turnout in a 1992 general election.
Analysts struggled to find explanations for the unexpectedly high turnout. Some simply gave up.
"Sorry, I really don't have any theory for this," said Yul Shin, a professor at Seoul's Myongji University. "When turnouts are high, voters are usually trying to lay down judgment on a government that disappoints them. But the exit polls predict a crushing win for the ruling party."
Wednesday's voting, which comes amid a slowing virus caseload in South Korea, draws a contrast with an upended election cycle in the United States, where some states have pushed back presidential primaries or switched to voting by mail, and where confusion reigned in Wisconsin as late attempts to postpone the vote were denied in court.
To hold the parliamentary elections as scheduled, South Korean officials and health authorities drew up a deliberate set of preventive measures to reduce risks of the virus being transmitted.
Duct tape or stickers marked a metre of physical distancing space from nearby streets to ballot booths. Masked poll workers checked temperatures of arrivals and whisked anyone with a fever or not wearing a mask to separate areas to vote, sanitizing the facilities after they voted. Voters who passed the fever screening got sanitizing gel and disposable plastic gloves before entering booths.
The government also mapped out a voting process for those quarantined in their homes, a number that ballooned after the country began enforcing two-week quarantines on all arrivals from overseas on April 1.
Officials texted eligible voters in self-quarantine before the vote and about 13,000 affirmed they wanted to participate. Those without fever or respiratory symptoms were given permission to leave their homes from 5:20 p.m. to 7 p.m. so they could cast their ballots after 6 p.m., when polling stations close for other voters.
They were to be escorted or monitored through tracking apps and had to maintain a two-metre distance at polling places, while workers fully dressed in protective suits were to disinfect booths after each of them votes.
Hospitalized patients or those who were then under two-week quarantine were able to vote by mail if they had applied in late March. Around 400 of the mildly ill voted at temporary shelters during last week's early voting.
Moon's presidency not at stake
South Korea has confirmed more than 10,590 coronavirus cases, including 225 deaths, with the number of new infections decreasing in recent weeks. But there's concern about rising cases in the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, and worries that crowds at parks and on mass transportation may be a sign of a relaxing of physical distancing.
"Please do exercise your valuable rights by voting, but also refrain from other gatherings or activities that involve multiple people in confined spaces," Health Ministry official Yoon Tae-ho said.
The National Assembly is elected every four years. Voters directly elect 253 district seats, while the remaining 47 go to proportional representatives.
While dozens of parties registered candidates, the elections were seen largely as a two-way race between Moon's ruling Democratic Party and the main conservative opposition United Future Party. Both registered satellite parties in a bid to win more proportional representative seats.
Before the virus began absorbing public attention, Moon saw his support falter over a decaying job market, corruption scandals surrounding key political allies and an ambitious but fragile diplomacy with rival North Korea that's falling apart.
Moon held three summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in 2018, but the North in recent months severed virtually all co-operation with the South amid a stalemate in larger nuclear negotiations with the United States. The North has also been dialling up weapons tests and fired a barrage of missiles into the sea on Tuesday.
South Korea's governing party wins election by a landslide (Al Jazeera)
South Korea's left-leaning governing party won a landslide in parliamentary elections results on Thursday showed, boosted by President Moon Jae-in's successes in containing the coronavirus.
Moon's Democratic party and its allies took 180 seats in the 300-member National Assembly, while the opposition United Future Party (UFP) won 103, according to the National Election Commission. South Korea's voting system combines direct and proportional votes.
Turnout was 66.2 percent, higher than any parliamentary elections since 1992.
"In line with the strict command the people gave us we will put top priority on overcoming the national crisis of the coronavirus and economic declines," former Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon, who led the governing party's campaign, said in a televised speech.
Just a few months ago scandals over power abuse and sluggish economic growth were undermining the president, with critics calling his dovish approach towards North Korea - despite Pyongyang abandoning its nuclear and ballistic missile test moratoriums - unrealistic.
But the South's relatively quick and effective handling of the epidemic boosted Moon's approval ratings before the elections, which were seen largely as a referendum on his performance.
His so-called "coronavirus diplomacy" - such as recent publicity on his bilateral phone calls with at least 20 state leaders regarding epidemic response - boosted Koreans' confidence in his administration, said Minseon Ku, a politics scholar at Ohio State University in the United States.
Ku added that the leader has been successfully framing the pandemic as an "opportunity for South Korea to restructure its economy - capitalising on industries like AI and biopharma" and this "coupled with South Korea's global recognition" for its handling of the outbreak sat well with the voters.
South Korea was among the first countries to hold a national election during the pandemic, with citizens still being asked to maintain social distancing, wear protective masks, clean their hands with sanitiser and don plastic gloves.
At each of the 14,000 polling stations, voters had their temperature checked before they were allowed to enter. Those found to have fevers cast their ballots in separate booths that were disinfected after each user.
The absolute majority should help Moon press ahead with his reform agenda in his last couple of years in office.
"It should give his administration greater momentum," said Andrew Yeo, a politics professor at the Catholic University of America.
Meanwhile, UFP heavyweights former Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn and ex-parliamentary floor leader Na Kyung-won failed to be re-elected.
The conservative party had "failed to rebrand" itself after the impeachment of former President Park Geun-hye, which "limited the boundary of support to older generations and core support regions", Ji Yeon Hong, a professor at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, told AFP news agency.
Foreign policy questions
The UFP, however, performed strongly in Daegu, the city at the heart of South Korea's coronavirus outbreak and the surrounding North Gyeongsang Province. The Democrats, meanwhile, won more than 80 percent of the seats in Seoul.
While the pandemic has drawn public attention away from the opposition's criticisms, it would be "dangerous" if Moon interprets the election as "vindicating foreign policies that aren't working", said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
"Seoul's engagement of Pyongyang has been met with diplomatic insults and missile tests. Placating China has yielded little benefit," he said.
"Talking tough on Japan has not advanced South Korean interests. And progressives want to accelerate military command reforms and resist cost-sharing pressures in Seoul's alliance with Washington."
Sources: thediplomat.com | cbc.ca | aljazeera.com
worst conservative result since 1960. finally some good fucking news