The Korea Herald


April 10 election sees record overseas voter turnout

Experts divided on whether turnout will play key part in upcoming election

By Jung Min-kyung

Published : April 3, 2024 - 16:02

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Overseas voters arrive at the Embassy of Republic of Korea in People's Republic of China to cast a ballot for South Korea's April 10 general election, in this photo taken on March 27. (Yonhap) Overseas voters arrive at the Embassy of Republic of Korea in People's Republic of China to cast a ballot for South Korea's April 10 general election, in this photo taken on March 27. (Yonhap)

Overseas voter turnout for the April 10 general election hit an all-time high of 62.8 percent, but experts on Wednesday were divided as to whether the number will play a significant role in determining the fate of the South Korean legislative body.

The state watchdog National Election Commission said in tentative data released Tuesday that 92,923 of an estimated 148,000 eligible overseas voters had cast their ballots for the upcoming election. Polls were open for a total of six days, from March 27 to Monday, at 220 polling stations in 115 countries worldwide.

The latest overseas voter turnout marks the highest figure since the country first adopted the system for Koreans living abroad ahead of the 2012 general election. Turnout for previous legislative elections came to 45.7 percent in 2012, followed by 41.1 percent and 23.8 percent in 2016 and 2020, respectively.

The record turnout triggered a wave of excitement among some politicians and experts, including the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea's leader Lee Jae-myung, who lauded it as "voices desiring to bring judgment upon the (Yoon Suk Yeol) administration and for a new country."

Political commentator Park Sang-byeong pointed to an increase in "politics back home," with voters dealing with an increasingly polarized political landscape.

"With overseas voters, only those who are truly interested in politics back home head to the polls. It seems many wish to bring judgment upon the current administration, including the latest incident with now-former Ambassador to Australia Lee Jong-sup," Park explained, forecasting that overseas voters would side with the main opposition party.

But other experts expressed skepticism on the turnout, alluding to an overall decline in the number of overseas voter registrations, which has buoyed the turnout this time.

The number of eligible overseas voters who had registered for the upcoming general election fell 14 percent to 147,989 from the previous 171,959 for the 2020 election. The corresponding figures were 154,217 in 2016 and 123,571 in 2012.

"The overall voter registration was lackluster this time," Lee Jean-young, director of the Inha Center for International Studies, said in a phone interview.

"Overseas voters face more physical obstacles when heading to the polls compared with local voters, but systems that could improve the situation, including mail-in or online ballots have yet to be adopted," he added, warning the voter registration could further drop in the future if the government fails to implement necessary measures.

Myongji University politics professor Shin Yul also expressed skepticism, saying the number of overseas voters that cast their ballots this time will again be "insufficient to make much impact" in the general election.

Overseas voter turnout for general elections has been lower compared with those for presidential elections. Turnout for the past three presidential elections all exceeded 70 percent, with the number of voter registrants having all surpassed 222,000 people and more than 150,000 voters having actually cast the ballot each time, the NEC data showed.

Local voters head to the polls to elect the 300-member National Assembly in early voting on Friday and Saturday, which will be closely followed by the official election day next week.