In Nowon by-election, Ahn shows he can still draw a crowd

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In Nowon by-election, Ahn shows he can still draw a crowd

In newly introduced absentee voting for the upcoming by-election, turnout was highest in Nowon C District in northeastern Seoul, a constituency where former presidential candidate Ahn Cheol-soo is running for a National Assembly seat.

On Friday and Saturday, Nowon C District recorded a voter turnout of 8.38 percent, followed by 5.93 on Yeong Island, Busan, and 5.62 in Buyeo, South Chungcheong.

In the April 24 by-election, 12 National Assembly, local government and council seats will be filled, including the three legislative seats.

The National Election Commission adopted integrated electronic poll books for the April 24 by-election, allowing voters to participate in absentee voting without prior registration.

Unlike the traditional way of absentee voting, which allows only hospital patients, prisoners, handicapped people and soldiers to cast ballots after going through a complicated registration process in advance, the new absentee voting system is open to all eligible voters.

Any voter who cannot cast a ballot on Election Day was allowed to go to any one of 79 absentee voting stations around the nation either on Friday or Saturday and cast a ballot.

The National Election Commission said the new system amounts to three days of voting.

The average turnout of last week’s absentee voting for the three legislative seats was 6.93 percent, according to the National Election Commission.

Turnout was higher than that of absentee voting for the National Assembly election in Nowon in April 2012, which was 2.1 percent.

Liberals welcomed the early voting, believing it would more enable young and working-class voters to cast ballots.

According to a poll conducted April 14-17 by SBS, 51.2 percent of 700 eligible voters in Nowon supported Ahn, while 27.9 percent backed Saenuri Party candidate Huh Joon-young, a former police commissioner.

Still, political observers say a by-election is unpredictable, because voter turnout is almost always less than expected.

Some political observers say the race could be tough for Ahn, who is running as an independent, because the ruling Saenuri Party can mobilize its members.

The main opposition Democratic United Party has neither publicly supported Ahn nor helped his campaign.

In last year’s presidential election, Ahn endorsed the DUP’s Moon Jae-in.

“In the absentee voting, there seemed to be voters of various ages,” said an official in Ahn’s camp. “So it is still uncertain how the new system would affect the election.”

Ahn is popular among young and liberal voters tired of business-as-usual politics.

By Kim Hee-jin [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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