Overseas Koreans call for easier voteRepresentatives of overseas Korean communities yesterday called for an improvement in voting procedures to raise voter turnout ahead of the presidential election in December. It comes after growing criticism about an inconvenient voting method during the April 11 general election that led to a lower than expected turnout.
“Only 45 percent of the [overseas Koreans] registered turned out to vote for the general election in April,” said Park Jong-bum, president of the Association of Korean Residents in Europe, during a press conference held at the Sheraton Grande Walkerhill Hotel in Gwangjang-dong, eastern Seoul.
The press conference was held before the opening of the 13th World Korean Community Leaders Convention in the afternoon.
Around 400 overseas Koreans from 73 different countries arrived in their homeland to participate in the four-day annual conference hosted by the Overseas Koreans Foundation.
“The biggest reason why so few overseas Koreans went to vote - only 2.53 percent of total eligible voters - was because the voting procedure was very complicated and inconvenient,” Park said.
In Europe, for example, Korean residents living in rural areas were only able to visit diplomatic offices after driving four to eight hours.
According to the National Election Commission, a total of 56,456 Koreans voted in ballot boxes set up in 158 diplomatic posts in 107 countries from March 28 to April 2.
About 123,000 Koreans overseas registered to vote during the registration period from Nov. 13 last year to Feb. 11.
Less than 3 percent of the 2.23 million Koreans overseas eligible to vote went to polling stations.
It was the first time they were given the right to vote in major local elections after the National Assembly revised the Election Law in 2009.
“In order to have more Koreans living overseas head to polling stations [for upcoming elections, including the presidential election in December], there should be changes made in the way residents vote,” said Chang Hong-keun, president of the Association of Korean Residents in Latin America.
Overseas community leaders proposed several measures, such as operating shuttle buses for overseas Koreans to reach diplomatic offices, casting votes via the mail or introducing an electronic voting system.
Today, community representatives will hold discussions with lawmakers Kim Sung-gon of the Democratic United Party and Hong Moon-jong of the ruling Saenuri Party about ways to improve policy measures to benefit Koreans living abroad, including voting procedures.
This year’s conference, in particular, has gained more attention than previous years from lawmakers.
More than 10 National Assembly members were present at the opening ceremony, including Saenuri Party Chairman Hwang Woo-yea, DUP Chairman Lee Hae-chan and former DUP Chairwoman Han Myeong-sook, which is seen as a move to meet with voters before the elections.
“The distance of heart between the Republic of Korea and residents overseas has become closer now that they are given voting rights,” Hwang said. “The Saenuri Party will try our best to make all Koreans proud.”
DUP Chairman Lee more directly urged participants in the event to actively cast their votes in the elections coming up.
“We urge you to cast precious votes in selecting the country’s new leader,” he said.
By Lee Eun-joo [email@example.com]