Emotional election draws high numbers to the polls
Aroused by the impeachment of President Roh Moo-hyun and the denigration of older voters by a leading figure of Our Open Party, Koreans, divided by age, exercised their vote yesterday in massive numbers.
Almost 60 percent of voters cast balllots, or 21.3 million people out of 35.6 million registered for the election. At 59.9 percent, the turnout was 2.7 percentage points higher than the 2000 legislative elections.
As the campaign crescendoed in the final days, poll experts and politicians declared turnout would be the decisive factor in shaping the new National Assembly. Noting sharp differences among supporter groups by age, political parties had focused their efforts on getting their target groups to polls. The Grand Nationals urged voters over 50 to cast ballots, while Our Open Party concentrated its efforts on voters in their 20s and 30s.
According to exit polls by media firms, the turnout of voters in their 20s and 30s was unusually high, boosting Our Open Party’s victory. As the day went on, the tide of young voters swelled, according to Ahn Boo-keun of poll company Media Research.
In 2000, turnout for those in their 20s was 36.8 percent and those in their 30s, 50.6 percent. An age breakdown for this election will not be available for several weeks.
Turnout rose, said poll experts, because of persistent anger over the impeachment of the president by the opposition parties.
Candlelight vigils supporting and protesting the impeachment and the government’s ban on the events also incited voters’ interest. The vigils, which have been popular forums to express mass solidarity since the 2002 road death accidents of two schoolgirls during a U.S. military exercise, continued from the impeachment on March 12 until just before the campaign in early April.
The anti-impeachment rallies drew hundreds of thousands of demonstrators. Some conservative groups also staged rallies in support of impeachment. Fearing that the rallies would influence the elections, the election commission asked the public to refrain from holding them, and eventually banned the events during the official campaign period in April.
The commission’s tough enforcement of new campaign laws to stop illegal fund-raising also contributed to voter perception that the vote would be the fairest and freest in the country’s history, observers said. Political parties also reflected public opinion during the candidate nomination processes, attempting to engage voters from the initial stage of the legislative elections, eventually pulling up voter turnout.
by Ser Myo-ja