By: Bloomberg | Seoul |
Published: April 15, 2020 11:12:18 am
Moon Jae-in talks with government employees during a virus prevention meeting in Daegu, South Korea. File/Bloomberg
Surveys show President Moon Jae-in’s Democratic Party of Korea set to win elections for 300 parliament seats on Wednesday, after his government’s popularity increased following its handling of the virus in what was initially one of the world’s hardest-hit countries. New infection rates have fallen this month to their lowest levels since February.
The decision to hold the election contrasts with some US states that have delayed presidential primaries and France, which suspended some local elections after cases began to multiply. Poland plans to conduct its May 10 presidential election by mail-in ballot.
Still, for any leaders weighing whether to call an election — such as those in Singapore and Japan — a big win for Moon’s party could show the political benefits of moving ahead with a vote despite the risks. The virus provided an opportunity for Moon to rebuild support battered by an economic slowdown, corruption scandals involving presidential aides and resurgent tensions with North Korea.
South Korea’s election shows the world that holding a vote during the pandemic is both possible and may be beneficial for leaders who have handled the crisis well, according to Miha Hribernik, head of Asia risk analysis at consultancy Verisk Maplecroft.
Seats in South Korea’s Parliament. Graph: Bloomberg
“Voters are likely to forgive previous transgressions and reward a decisive crisis response,” he said. “Unfortunately, we believe South Korea is currently one of the rare exceptions to the rule. Most countries have mishandled their initial response to the pandemic, and many world leaders face a reckoning at the polls over the coming years.”
North Korea, which has a history of stirring tensions when South Koreans go to the polls, fired multiple missiles from its eastern coast Tuesday, in a show of military might.
South Korea is taking precautions to keep voters safe: They will be required to stand at least one meter (3 feet) apart, cover their faces, wear disposable gloves and be ready to submit to temperature checks, while voting booths will be frequently disinfected.
As of 2 p.m., turnout was at 53 per cent of registered voters, well above the 42.3 per cent at the same time in the last election four years ago, according to data from the National Election Commission. The figures include early voting tallies, with a record 27 per cent of eligible voters casting ballots during two days of voting last week.
Voting was expected to end at 6 p.m. and exit poll results were planned for release a few minutes after that. A Gallup Korea poll released last week, before restrictions on publishing poll results took effect Thursday, showed that the Democratic Party was leading the opposition 41 per cent to 23 per cent.
Still, the complexity of South Korea’s vote and a history of surprises make predictions difficult. Even just months ago, Moon had faced criticism for a lax approach after the pandemic began in neighboring China. He predicted then the virus would be terminated “before long” — only to see cases spike days later.
Postponing the election would have been a worrisome precedent in South Korea’s three decade-old democracy, with many Moon supporters being among those who took to the streets in the 1980s to end autocratic rule.
“South Koreans have been traumatized by living under the authoritarian regimes of the past and see elections as essential,” said Duyeon Kim, a senior adviser for Northeast Asia at the International Crisis Group. “Not even the Korean War stopped them from voting in the 1952 presidential race or the H1N1 influenza outbreak in 2009 by-elections.”
More than 1,100 candidates from 21 political parties have signed up for 253 constituencies with direct elections. Another 300 candidates are fighting for 47 seats decided by support for the parties.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines