South Korean nationals living abroad began casting ballots for the April general elections Wednesday, but the global coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the process.
A total of 171,959 overseas nationals registered to vote over six days through Monday, but some 80,000 won’t be able to do so in the aftermath of the fast-spreading coronavirus, which has killed over 42,000 people around the world.
The National Election Commission has suspended election-related affairs at 65 diplomatic missions in 40 countries, including Korean consulate generals in Wuhan in China’s Hubei province, New York and Los Angeles in the United States, as well as Frankfurt in Germany.
Vice Minister of Health and Welfare Kim Kang-lip said the government is still seeking ways to minimize damages posed by the health security challenge.
“Experts and government agencies are trying to find a way to guarantee voting rights while securing safety for those who are under quarantine at home and who are undergoing treatment,” he said in a press conference.
Koreans living in Germany and Canada filed a complaint with the Constitutional Court and sought an injunction against the National Election Commission’s decision to halt the election-related process. They said the watchdog made a unilateral decision without taking alternatives into account.
Concerns have been raised that the turnout rate of overseas voters may hit its lowest level. It stood at 45.7 percent in 2012 when overseas voting was introduced for the 19th National Assembly election and 41.4 percent in 2016.
Diplomatic missions have been equipped with hand sanitizer and thermal imaging cameras to prevent community transmission at the polling stations. Voters were told to maintain a distance while waiting to cast their ballots.
If consulate generals are not able to transfer ballot boxes to vote-counting stations in Korea due to travel restrictions, they will conduct ballot tallying in the respective countries.
By Park Han-na (email@example.com