The number of early voters ahead of Tuesday’s presidential election hit a record high Friday.
Striving to gain an upper hand for next week’s main race, top-tier candidates raced to reach out to the public, some focusing on encouraging early voting and others promoting their child care policies, marking the 95th Children’s Day on Friday.
The final turnout for early voting stood at 26.06 percent, with 11.07 million out of 42.47 million total voters casting their ballot at 3,507 polling stations nationwide, according to the National Election Commission.
During the two days of early voting Thursday and Friday, all eligible voters aged 19 and over could visit any nearby polling station from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., present identification, receive a ballot and vote. No advance registration was necessary.
Past turnouts for early voting were 12.2 percent in the 2016 parliamentary election and 11.5 percent in the 2014 local election.
The most eager area was Sejong City with 34.48 percent as of 6 p.m. while the city of Daegu was the least involved, at 22.28 percent.
Greater Seoul lingered around the national average, at 26.09 percent for Seoul, 24.38 percent for Incheon and 24.92 percent for Gyeonggi Province.
Taking the lead in encouraging early voting was liberal front-runner Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party of Korea, who is expected to benefit the most from a high voter turnout, especially among the progressive-leaning younger generation.
In a gesture to add a festive mood to early voting, the candidate had earlier pledged give out free hugs in the Hongdae area Saturday if the early voting turnout reached 25 percent.
“On this Children’s Day, I ask citizens to hold their children’s hand and visit the nearby polling station,” Moon’s chief election publicist Rep. Park Kwang-on said Friday in a statement.
“This year’s earlier-than-planned election is the result of the people’s aspiration for a new Republic of Korea, and every ballot will count in building a bright future for our children.”
Moon also urged his supporters to participate in voting during his regional campaigns in Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province, and Busan, two major cities located in the conservative-leaning Gyeongsang belt.
“I can become president only if you vote,” he said, taking guard against the prevailing prediction that he would achieve an easy win either with or without voter participation.
The top-tier candidate earlier warned party officials to remain alert against possible mistakes or counterattacks during the few remaining days of electioneering.
“When we look back on past elections, anything may happen during the last few days, so we should never lower our guard or make even the slightest mistake in our words,” he said at the party’s election committee meeting in the morning before setting out for his regional campaign tour.
Slightly less committed to early voting turnout, Ahn focused on his child care policies, vowing to increase the number of state-run day care facilities to handle excessive demand.
His plan involves pulling up the portion of state-run day care centers from the current 11 percent to 20 percent and to pay a monthly allowance of 100,000 won ($88) to low-income families with children aged 11 or less.
The centrist candidate had earlier come under fire for his comment that he would not further increase the number of state-funded kindergartens.
Hong Joon-pyo of the hard-line conservative Liberty Korea Party, on the other hand, underlined the national security agenda while addressing the voters in Gangwon Province.
“The upcoming election is all about national security, which is why a powerful character is needed in order to properly lead this country,” Hong said on his campaign in Gangneung.
By Bae Hyun-jung (email@example.com)