By Jeong Hunny
About 1.96 million voters across the country flocked to polling stations on Friday as the two-day advance voting period began nationwide for the June 4 local elections, with the latest surveys forecasting a tight race between the ruling party and opposition bloc.
The turnout of the vote on the first day stood at 4.75 percent, the National Election Commission said.
According to poll results by region, South Jeolla Province had the highest turnout at 8.5 percent, followed by North Jeolla Province (7.34 percent) and Gangwon Province (6.57 percent).
South Korea first adopted the advance voting system for a by-election in 2013. This is the first time it is being used for local elections countrywide.
At the Yeouido polling station in Seoul, voters who came during the lunch hour waited in line for 25 minutes in temperatures above 27 degrees Celsius.
“I’m going on vacation next Wednesday (June 4),” said a 64-year-old woman surnamed Lee, when asked why she voted early. “But I wanted to vote before I went, so here I am.”
“I stopped by on my way to the hospital. I don’t live here, but I thought I’d vote because the polls were right there,” said Seong Min-joo, 22, a college student who lives in Anyang, Gyeonggi Province.
The advance voting system allows citizens to vote at any polling station without registering for an absentee ballot. This usually translates into a higher voter turnout. Similar voting systems are used in other countries such as the U.S. and Canada to raise voter participation rates.
The results of major gubernatorial and mayoral races are still up for grabs, according to polls taken earlier this week.
In the Gyeonggi Province gubernatorial election, the ruling Saenuri Party candidate Nam Kyung-pil led the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy’s Kim Jin-pyo by a narrow 1.3 percent. Nam earned a 36 percent voter approval rating while Kim received 34.7 percent in a survey conducted by national broadcasters MBC and SBS from Monday to Wednesday.
Both the ruling and main opposition parties consider the Gyeonggi Province race second only to the Seoul mayor campaigns, because the province is home to more than 9.6 million of the country’s 41 million voters.
In Busan, Korea’s second-most populous city, balloters are still divided between the Saenuri Party’s mayoral candidate Suh Byung-soo and independent Oh Keo-don, a pan-opposition candidate. Suh saw 36.9 percent support to Oh’s 39 percent in an MBC-SBS survey. The conservative faction has dominated Busan’s mayoral elections since 1998.
In Seoul, NPAD candidate Park Won-soon still leads the Saenuri Party’s Chung Mong-joon by more than 10 percentage points, while in Incheon, incumbent mayor Song Young-gil of the NPAD is more than 8 percentage points ahead of Yoo Jeong-bok, the former security and public administration minister under President Park Geun-hye.
Announcing surveys conducted on or after Thursday is prohibited by law, making the latest polls the last public forecasts for the June local elections. Private polls are permitted.
The Saenuri candidates firmly lead in the Gyeongsang provinces, Ulsan, Daegu, Daejeon and Jeju, while the NPAD has a foothold in the Jeolla provinces and South Chungcheong Province.
As of Tuesday, the Saenuri Party itself still holds a 42 percent national endorsement rating over the NPAD’s 28 percent, according to Gallup Korea.