The election campaigns for the presidential election wrapped up Tuesday, with candidates each promising a brighter future for Korea.
While the front-runners spent the last day of campaigns claiming to be the right choice for the nation’s future, their campaigns have been marred with scandals and accusations, which all but buried pledges and policy initiatives.
On Tuesday, all major candidates marked an end to their campaign journeys in central and symbolic areas of Seoul, having spent the day appealing to young voters.
Presidential nominee Lee Jae-myung of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea held a final press conference in the morning to appeal to undecided voters.
"I stand here, heavy-hearted and scared, as Korea is at a crossroad of moving forward for the future or going backward to the past," Lee said. "Please write the new history of the victory of the people with me."
The ruling party candidate said he will work on forming an administration for integration, such as a launching a transition team that can work on the policies promised by each candidate.
"The Democratic Party with Lee Jae-myung will be different. We will put down all the vested rights we had under the two-part system," he said, promising to put an end to the current political dynamics.
After the conference, he met with voters in Yeouido, western Seoul, and emphasized his vision on bringing economic recovery.
The candidate had vowed to have South Korea grow into the fifth-largest economy in the world by reaching a per capita gross domestic product of $50,000 and raising the Kospi, the country’s main stock index, to 5,000 points during his term.
Lee spent the remaining hours of the campaign by holding rallies in Incheon and two places in Gyeonggi Province, before holding a major rally in the evening at the Cheonggye Plaza in Jongno-gu, central Seoul.
"This election can come to an end with the difference of two or three votes," Lee said while canvassing in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, calling for supporters to persuade others.
"Please choose Lee Jae-myung, the most useful tool for your future. I will pay you back with a fairer, encouraging future."
His presidential election campaign committee said Lee chose to hold the final rally near Gwanghwamun Square, a symbolic place for the liberal faction as it was the stage for candlelight demonstrations in 2017 held to denounce former President Park Geun-hye that later led to her impeachment.
Lee also cast his ballot in the area during early voting Friday, to signal to voters that he will uphold the spirit of the demonstrations.
Afterward, the ruling party candidate was scheduled to walk in the streets of a college area in Mapo-gu, western Seoul, and meet young voters in their 20s and 30s, the two age groups often touted as key “swing voters” in Wednesday’s election.
Lee's closest rival, Yoon Suk-yeol from the main opposition People Power Party, planned his schedule to steadily move from the south to eventually finish in Seoul, starting his first rally on Jeju Island then flying over to Busan for another.
"You have seen all the corruption of the Democratic Party administration be hidden and concealed. This is the death of democracy," Yoon said, attacking the rival party while canvassing on Jeju Island.
In Busan, Yoon was joined by People’s Party Chairman Ahn Cheol-soo, who dropped out of the race earlier after uniting candidacies with Yoon.
"I will help boost the economy of the greater Busan area with a better transportation network along with the president-elect," said Ahn, who is from Busan.
"I ask Yoon to carry on the duties," he added, shouting Yoon’s name with supporters at the scene.
Yoon then made stops in Daegu and Daejeon before staging the final mass rally in front of Seoul City Hall in the center of the capital.
The People Power Party said the events were aimed at signaling to voters with varying political views that Yoon is a candidate who can bring justice and impartiality by successfully overturning the administration and creating a country centered on the people and their livelihoods.
The rallies were concentrated on highlighting Yoon’s competitiveness to bring an end to troubling effects and missteps from the incumbent Moon Jae-in administration, the party said.
To show the unity of party heavyweights, Yoon’s last mass rally in Seoul Plaza will be joined by former lawmaker Yoo Seung-min. His primary competitor Rep. Hong Joon-pyo canceled his appearance due to health issues.
Yoon was expected to conclude his final campaigning day by meeting young voters at a college town area in Gwangjin-gu, eastern Seoul, and moving to do the same near the Gangnam Station area in southern Seoul.
Rep. Sim Sang-jung, the presidential candidate for the minor left-wing Justice Party, also spent the last day of the campaign trail at key hotspots in Seoul. She traversed the northern parts of Seoul in the morning and ended her journey in Mapo-gu.
As a candidate from the minor progressive party and the only major female candidate in the election, Sim addressed the issues of feminism and women’s rights, celebrating International Women’s Day.
"The lives of Korean women are feminism itself," Sim wrote on social media Tuesday. "My life was feminism, too. I am not ashamed about my past," she wrote. "Please support the journey of gender equality -- a path which I have not given up."
Sim visited universities in Seoul to appeal to younger voters.
"Supporting the third party is supporting our rights, raising the voices of those in their 20s and 30s, bringing change for the future. Please have faith," Sim said while canvassing to college students at Hanyang Univeristy in eastern Seoul.
The three main candidates scheduled to conclude their campaign journeys in the capital region as many surveys have hinted in the past that most of the politically neutral voters who have yet to decide on their picks are located in Seoul and nearby areas.
Latest survey results hinted Lee and Yoon were still competing for the lead within margins of error, and both parties have suggested in recent interviews that their candidates seemed to be in the lead.
The 20th presidential election officially starts at 6 a.m. Wednesday and allows voters to cast their ballots at polling stations near their homes until 6 p.m. on the same day. COVID-19 patients and those under quarantine orders will be given a separate time slot of 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. to cast their votes.
Local broadcasters SBS, MBC, KBS and JTBC will unveil their exit poll results starting at 7:30 p.m. Other media outlets will be allowed to report on the exit poll results from 7:40 p.m., 10 minutes after the results are announced.
If the election turns out to be a tight race between Lee and Yoon, the winner could be announced as late as 5 a.m. Thursday.
By Ko Jun-tae and Im Eun-byel (firstname.lastname@example.org