U.S. applauds Korea’s elections

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U.S. applauds Korea’s elections

The United States offered congratulations to Korea for successfully holding its general elections and upholding democratic ideals and values on Wednesday amid the coronavirus pandemic.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted Wednesday: “Congratulations to the Republic of #Korea for successful legislative elections, in the face of a global pandemic. South Korea’s dedication to democratic values and a free and open society is what the world needs to fight #COVID19.”

Korea is the first country to hold national elections since the Covid-19 pandemic - and despite bolstered safety measures over coronavirus concerns recorded a voter turnout of 66.2 percent, the highest for a general election in 28 years.

Many other governments across the world have been forced to postpone or cancel elections initially scheduled for spring including Britain, France, Chile, Bolivia and Ethiopia because it was deemed impossible to carry out polls amid the coronavirus outbreak.

U.S. Ambassador to Seoul Harry Harris likewise lauded the high voter turnout. “Record high voter turnout yesterday is a testament to South Korea’s dedication to democratic ideals even in the face of the #COVID19 crisis,” Harris posted on Twitter Thursday. “Congratulations on the general elections #ROK!” ROK stands for the Republic of Korea.

Korea has seen a drastic decrease in new coronavirus cases in recent weeks, and its extensive and advanced diagnostic testing capabilities and containment abilities are being recognized globally as having been effective in efforts toward flattening the curve in the country.

Even during the peak of the coronavirus spread, Korea never went into total lockdown, nor did it implement any entry bans except in early February on visitors from China’s Hubei Province, where the virus originated from in the region’s capital of Wuhan last year. Instead, there was focus on transparent dissemination of information and widespread public cooperation and trust.

Foreign media generally credited the Korean government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak as aiding the landslide victory of the ruling Democratic Party and its satellite parties in the April 15 general elections, seen as a referendum on Moon’s performance.

The New York Times wrote an article entitled: “In South Korea Vote, Virus Delivers Landslide Win to Governing Party” that said “President Moon Jae-in’s left-leaning alliance won a historic majority in Parliament thanks in part to the country’s largely successful handling of the coronavirus.”

The United States will be holding its presidential election in November. Some states have pushed back their presidential primaries or opted for voting by mail amid coronavirus lockdowns.

Thus, U.S. media especially focused on the quarantine procedures in place in Korea which made physically casting ballots possible. Coverage showed how Korean voters stood in line in 1-meter (3-foot) intervals, wore masks and disposable plastic gloves and passed temperature screenings to cast their ballots.

A Washington Post editorial Thursday was entitled: “Global democracy will be weakened without fair elections. South Korea shows they’re possible.” The editorial noted that the high voter turnout “is evidence of an effective response to the coronavirus pandemic by the ruling Democratic Party of President Moon Jae-in, which is likely to be rewarded as a result.”

It added, “Unfortunately, it also makes South Korea an exception in the democratic world.”

Japanese media reports also noted that the outcome of the Korean general elections reflected a positive evaluation by the public on the government’s coronavirus response.

Kyodo News reported Thursday that the elections’ “outcome demonstrates voter satisfaction with the way the government” has handled the coronavirus outbreak.

China’s state-run Xinhua reported, “A widespread public support for South Korean President Moon Jae-in resulted in his ruling party’s sweeping victory” at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has “delayed elections in other countries.”

Britain’s The Independent reported, “Defying calls to postpone the voting, South Korea’s national election commission insisted on carrying out the entire process on schedule as proof of the nation’s ability to fight the global pandemic.” Britain’s local elections, that were set to be held in May, have been pushed back a year.

Korean quarantine authorities on Thursday expressed thanks to citizens for strictly adhering to social distancing measures on Wednesday and setting an example to the world showing that voting is possible amid a pandemic. However, authorities likewise cautioned to remain cautious for the next two weeks.

“Many countries in the world are delaying elections because of the Covid-19 crisis, but we were able to carry out our elections through thorough preparations,” said Korean Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip in a briefing Thursday. “This is through the active cooperation of the people and the efforts of the election survivors and local public officials.”

President Moon in a statement Thursday said, “This election has again surprised the world. Even amid the global Covid-19 crisis, we were the only country among key countries to carry out our elections.” He noted, “The people took part in the elections and voted [while] carrying out social distancing and quarantine regulations and in keeping with public order” in a “show of true public sentiment.”

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
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