Candidates desperate for voters

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Candidates desperate for voters

Candidates in Thursday's local elections are desperate, they say, to get voters to the polls, as election watchers forecast the lowest-ever turnout since the elections began in 1995. Less than 50 percent of voters are expected to cast ballots.

The major candidates for mayor of Seoul shifted their campaign strategies from attracting votes to simply attracting voters. Lee Myung-bak, the Grand National Party's mayoral candidate, unveiled a new slogan Tuesday: "Voting is patriotism." Mr. Lee's camp urged the government to lift the special traffic controls in place during the World Cup finals on Thursday to make it easier for elderly voters to get to polling stations. A majority of those voting for Mr. Lee are expected to be over 50. His rival, Kim Min-seok of the Millennium Democratic Party, also has a new campaign slogan: "Let's watch soccer ?after voting." Mr. Kim is targeting younger voters by sponsoring events like body painting to bring the World Cup fever to the mayoral race.

Despite the gloomy voter turnout forecasts, political parties profess optimism about their chances of winning. The Grand Nationals believe they are leading in elections in most metropolitan cities and the gubernatorial races.

"We will win the mayoral elections in Seoul, Daejeon and Ulsan and the gubernatorial race in Jeju," Suh Chung-won, chairman of the Grand National Party, predicted. "We will win at most 12 and at least 10 voting districts."

The Millennium Democratic Party is also confident about victories in the capital region. "In early opinion polls, we took the lead in Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi province," said Hahn Hwa-kap, the party chairman.

Independent candidates are making last-minute pitches for voters who may have lost faith in the major parties. One independent candidate for head of Cheongwon county, North Chungcheong province, has reportedly personally telephoned hundreds of voters to urge them to come out Thursday and vote for him. Some candidates are even proposing novel ideas to the National Election Commission for boosting voter turnout. One reportedly suggested discounts at movie theaters for customers with proof of having voted.

Despite all the effort, many voters still seam disinterested. "I am a bit interested in the Seoul mayoral race," said a 32-year-old office worker living in Mok-dong, southwestern Seoul. "But I don't even know the names of candidates running for seats in the city and district councils."

by Kim Bang-hyeon, Choi Sang-yeon

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