SKoreans head to polls amid COVID-19 outbreak

Seoul, April 15 (IANS) South Korean voters went to the polls for parliamentary election on Wednesday amid the COVID-19 outbreak, the National Election Commission said.

The election to vote for 300 members of the National Assembly, which began from 6 a.m. (local time), would last for 12 hours at 14,330 polling stations across the country, Xinhua news agency reported.

Preparations were made to protect voters from possible infection while casting ballots, by disinfecting voting stations and marking the standing line at intervals of at least one metre.

Voters were allowed to enter the voting booths only after wearing masks, checking body temperature, rubbing their hands with sanitizer and putting on disposable plastic gloves.

The election was held at a time of the COVID-19 outbreak across the world that delayed elections in other countries such as Britain, France and the United States.

South Korea has seen a slowing daily caseload of the virus in recent weeks. If the nationwide election is successfully held without any big cluster infection, the country may relieve its rules on social-distancing.

The government has encouraged people to refrain from social gatherings and religious services as cluster infections account for more than 80 percent of the total confirmed COVID-19 cases.

In the latest tally, the country reported 27 more cases of the COVID-19 for the past 24 hours, raising the total figure to 10,591. The daily caseload hovered below 50 for the seventh straight day.

Of the 43.99 million voting-age South Koreans, 26.69 per cent voted in advance on Friday and Saturday. It was the highest since the early voting system was introduced in 2013.

According to the Gallup Korea survey commissioned by the National Election Commission, 79.0 per cent replied that they would go to the polls “without fail.”

It was 12.4 percentage points higher than four years ago for the parliamentary election. Those who said they would vote “if possible” was 15.1 per cent.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in's approval rating has risen in recent weeks amid the positive public views over his government's response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

According to the Realmeter poll, support for Moon advanced to 54.4 per cent in the second week of this month. It was far higher than 46.9 per cent tallied in the first week of February.

During the electioneering, Moon's ruling Democratic Party focused on the government's successful response to the virus, adopting the campaign slogan of “We protect the people.”

The mood of this year's election campaign, usually energetic and noisy, was relatively dull and quiet as campaigners were advised to wear masks and avoid handshakes.

To secure the suffrage of those under the mandatory two-week self-quarantine, the election organizing body allowed them to leave home out of quarantine to go to the polls for a set period of time.

Among those who are quarantined as they were infected with the virus, came in contact with the infectees or came from overseas within two weeks, people showing no symptom would be allowed to cast ballots for an hour from 6 p.m. local time when others ended voting.

They would be required to wear masks and report to health officials before leaving home and after arriving home. They should walk or drive alone to the voting stations in less than half an hour, casting ballots in separately arranged booths and standing in line at intervals of at least two metres.

Of the 59,918 voters under the mandatory quarantine, 22.8 per cent, or 13,642, applied for the vote for the general elections, widely seen as a mid-term referendum on the Moon Jae-in government.

If they violate the rules, they will face up to one-year imprisonment or up to the fine of 10 million won (about 8,200 US dollars).



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