SEOUL: South Korea went to vote in parliamentary elections on Wednesday despite the coronavirus threat, putting on compulsory face masks and gloves to cast their ballots.
South Korea is among the first countries with a major virus outbreak to hold a national vote since the global pandemic began as stringent safety measures were in place around the poll. The parliamentary election is expected to bolster the ruling Democratic party’s position as 43.9 million voters eligible cast their ballots.
Voters in obligatory masks lined up at least one metre apart outside polling stations and had their temperatures checked before being allowed in. All had to clean their hands with sanitiser and don plastic gloves, while those with fevers cast their ballots in separate booths that were disinfected after each use.
South Korea had the world’s second-largest outbreak before it was largely brought under control through widespread testing and a contact-tracing drive, along with widely observed social distancing. However, those under self-quarantine at home will be allowed to vote immediately after the polls close as long as they do not show virus symptoms.
Special polling stations were set up at eight central quarantine facilities at the weekend to enable the confined to vote. Anyone who is staying at home and has developed symptoms is effectively disenfranchised and will not be allowed to vote.
Campaigning was also affected by the outbreak: instead of the traditional handshakes and distributing of name cards, candidates kept their distance from citizens, bowing and offering an occasional fist bump. Many turned to online media such to connect with voters, while some even volunteered to disinfect parts of their constituencies.
A survey conducted by Gallup Korea last week showed that 27 percent of respondents were reluctant to vote due to the epidemic. Around 72 percent said they were not worried, and a high turnout had been expected after 11.7 million people voted early over the weekend.
South Korea’s relatively quick and effective handling of the epidemic has been a boon for the President Moon Jae-in ahead of the vote, seen as a referendum on his performance. Just a few months ago, he was assailed by critics over sluggish economic growth and his approach to North Korea.
South Korea on Wednesday announced 27 new virus cases, the seventh consecutive day with fewer than 40. The country has had nearly 11,000 infections and 225 deaths.
South Korea bans opinion polls in the week before an election, but the last available gave the Democratic party 44 percent support, a huge lead over the main conservative opposition United Future Party, on 23 percent.
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