Parties urge old, young to vote early if they canThe two-day early voting period for the general election kicked off Friday with the Saenuri Party worrying it may lose its parliamentary majority.
Based on an internal assessment, the ruling party said earlier this week it may not be able to win the 150 seats needed to hold its majority in the 300-member National Assembly. There have been estimates that it may only win 140 seats, though some think those figures are overly pessimistic.
Ruling and opposition party officials and contenders for legislative seats went all-out to campaign among early voters, especially in the hotly contested races in Seoul and surrounding metropolitan areas, which are considered the key battlefield in the elections.
Early voting was opened in 3,511 polling stations nationwide between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Friday and will resume again Saturday. Anyone can vote if they show up at a designated polling booth with identification, unlike for an absentee ballot, which requires prior registration. Early voting is held for people who find voting on election day, April 13, inconvenient.
The Saenuri’s support rate has been slipping while the main opposition Minjoo and minor opposition People’s Party’s support rates have been on the rise. According to a Korean Gallup poll in the first week of April, the Saenuri Party had a 39 percent support rate, Minjoo had 21 percent and the People’s Party had 14 percent. There is some evidence that Saenuri supporters have switched support to the People’s Party of Ahn Cheol-soo.
As of 5:00 p.m. on Friday, the voter turnout was 4.97 percent, according to the National Election Commission, of a total of 42.1 million eligible voters.
On the first day of polling, South Jeolla had the highest turnout with over 8.58 percent, followed by North Jeolla at 7.61 percent.
The turnout was higher than in the June 2014 local elections, when the turnout for early voting was 3.84 percent at the same time on the first day of casting ballots.
Both the ruling and opposition parties went all out to encourage supporters to vote, especially because candidates who poll higher in early voting are seen to have a higher likelihood of victory.
The Saenuri appealed for seniors to vote Friday and Saturday, while the Minjoo reached out to younger voters.
The Minjoo Party had been targeting a 20 percent turnout of total voters during early voting.
Saenuri proportional representative candidates cast early ballots at the Yeouidong Community Service Center in western Seoul, in an attempt to draw out more voters.
Likewise, Won Yoo-cheol, floor leader of the Saenuri Party, voted at a polling station in his constituency of Pyongtaek, Gyeonggi.
Saenuri Chairman Kim Moo-sung, however, did not cast an early ballot and instead focused on campaigning in Seoul and Gyeonggi, including Gimpo, and will vote on Wednesday in his constituency in Busan.
Kim Chong-in, the Minjoo Party interim leader, cast his early ballot at a community center in Yeonsu District, Incheon, then headed to Ilsan to urge people to vote.
People’s Party co-chairman Ahn likewise opted to vote on Wednesday and joined his party’s proportional representative candidates at Seoul Station to campaign. Fellow co-chairman Chun Jung-bae headed to his constituency, Seo District in Gwangju, to cast an early ballot with his wife.
Yoo Seong-min, a former Saenuri lawmaker who defected from the party and is running as an independent in the Daegu Dong B District seat, cast a ballot in his constituency.
President Park Geun-hye made visits to innovation centers in Cheongju in North Chungcheong and Jeonju in North Jeolla Province.
BY SARAH KIM [email@example.com]