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Election season kicks off

NEC adopts early voting system for first time to increase voter turnout

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Published : 2014-05-15 20:58
Updated : 2014-05-16 09:59

Candidates for the June 4 local elections across the country have started to register with the nation’s election watchdog on Thursday, officially kicking off the much-awaited campaign season.

Rival parties have also jumped into the election race by holding the first round of meetings to discuss strategies and finalize their agendas. They have, however, maintained low positions in an apparent move not to offend voters amid the national mourning of the victims of the Sewol ferry disaster. 

Candidates who run for municipal offices and councils are required to submit their registration to the National Election Commission on Thursday and Friday. If they register as candidates, they can launch their campaigns for 13 days starting on May 22.

The elections, to be held nationwide, are regarded as a major test of the Park Geun-hye government, which entered its second year in February.

If the ruling party wins major electoral seats, the victory is expected to empower the government, which has increasingly become the focus of public disappointment for its poor initial response to the disaster, as well as President Park’s recent apologies to the victims’ families. Disputes escalated over her first apology, carried out in the middle of a Cabinet meeting on April 29. Victims’ families protested against the president, saying her apology was insincere and informal.
A candidate registers at the Jongno-gu election commission office in Seoul, Thursday, during the two-day registration period for the upcoming June 4 local elections. (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)

The issues of the government’s poor initial response to the disaster as well as its insufficient safety measures and capacity to handle such major accidents are expected to dominate the entire election campaign.

The Saenuri Party said on Thursday it would seek “forgiveness from the public” through the upcoming election and vowed to rebuild trust with the people.

“There is no way but to seek forgiveness from the public,” said Rep. Suh Cheong-won, co-chairman of the party’s election committee. “We should ask them to have faith in us that we will never let this (kind of) accident happen again,” he said during the first round of the party’s election committee.

The main opposition party also urged local party offices to refrain from making rowdy street campaigns, and try to figure out what the voters want.

Rep. Min Byung-doo also indicated that the party would target voters with children, an attempt to secure more votes from elderly electors. In past elections, a majority of senior voters have favored candidates from the conservative party over the liberal-leaning opposition party.

“It is important to hear from ‘angry moms’ or those who could tell their parents or in-laws that society needs to change for their grandchildren,” said Min, who is in charge of public relations on the election committee of the party.

The local elections will be held to fill a total of 3,952 posts in municipal offices, councils and education offices. Races among candidates running for mayoral posts in major cities including Seoul, Busan and Incheon are highlights of the upcoming election.

The NEC said it would hold a two-day advance voting on May 30-31 for the first time. The voting system is introduced to increase voter turnout. Voters can cast their ballots four days prior to the official Election Day at 3,506 polling stations across the country, it said. Unlike absentee votes, electors don’t need a valid reason to take part in early voting. They can also cast votes at any polling station across the county.

The election watchdog is also introducing new polling booths that have no screen attached. The new booths are presented to create a lively atmosphere at the polling stations. Booths, however, will keep their distance away from each other to maintain voter privacy, it added.

Political critics say that the participation rate for the upcoming election will be lower than previous ones amid growing public criticism directed both at the government and political circles.

By Cho Chung-un (christory@heraldcorp.com)

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