Voters to deliver midterm appraisal

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Voters to deliver midterm appraisal

Voters go to the polls today to elect nearly 4,000 governors, mayors, councilors and education chiefs in what has turned into a midterm referendum on the Lee Myung-bak administration grappling with the increasingly belligerent North Korea.

Polling booths, installed at 13,388 locations nationwide, will be open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

“Each ballot brings us to the future that we’ve dreamed of,” said Yang Sung-tae, head of the National Election Commission.

The election commission said yesterday that 38.9 million voters aged 19 years or older, about 77.7 percent of the population, will cast ballots to elect a total of 3,991 officials, including 16 metropolitan mayors and provincial governors and 228 heads of lower-level administrative units.

Yesterday, with the official campaign period ending at midnight, a total of 9,942 candidates were making their final pleas to get as many votes as possible.

The local elections, the first nationwide polls in two years, come amid heightened tension on the peninsula in the aftermath of March’s sinking of a South Korean warship. Seoul has blamed North Korea.

The rival Grand National and Democratic parties focused on the races for 16 metropolitan mayors and provincial governors, regarding the polls as a litmus test of sentiment toward the conservative Lee government and a prelude to parliamentary and presidential elections slated for 2012.

According to the latest polls conducted by media companies, including three major TV broadcasters, the GNP was leading in at least seven of the 16 metropolitan mayor and gubernatorial positions - Seoul, Gyeonggi, Busan, Ulsan, Daegu, North Gyeongsang and Gangwon.

The DP appears strong in Gwangju, South and North Jeolla provinces, which form the party’s traditional power base.

The surveys said the outcomes in Incheon, South Gyeongsang and Chungcheong are hard to predict.

GNP leaders have expressed confidence in an overwhelming victory.

“With our easy win in our traditional power bases such as Gangwon, Busan, North Gyeongsang and Daegu expected, we will come to achieve a landslide victory if we win the three capital regions as well as the South Gyeongsang and Chungcheong provinces,” said Chung Doo-un, head of the party’s central election committee.

The DP also remained confident. Kim Min-seok, its chief campaigner, said voters in their 40s, who have usually reacted sensitively to welfare, education and culture issues, are turning to support the party’s campaign to check the excessive power of the ruling party.

NEC officials said the vote count is expected to be completed between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. tomorrow.

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