Asia & Pacific News: South Korea’s Ruling Progressive Party Wins Election
Highest turnout in 28 years despite COVID-19 pandemic
SEOUL—South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s ruling progressive party won an absolute majority in parliamentary elections, results on Thursday showed, a victory some say have been propelled by his party’s current success in containing the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) virus, commonly known as the new coronavirus.
The election was watched around the world as one of the first nationwide votes since the pandemic began.
Authorities took stringent safety measures, disinfecting all 14,000 polling stations and requiring voters to wear masks, have their temperatures checked, use hand sanitizer and plastic gloves and maintain a safe distance from others.
Driven by record high participation in early voting over the weekend, turnout was 66.2 percent, higher than any parliamentary elections held in the last 28 years since 1992, according to the National Election Commission.
A boost for turnout came from record-high participation in early voting last weekend, when about 27 percent of 44 million eligible voters cast ballots.
“We advised them not to use public transportation … and disinfected the booth before the next voter comes in,” said Jeon Kyung-ha, a Seoul city official.
Voter Choi Sun-hwa told Reuters she was initially apprehensive about coming out to vote because of the CCP virus.
“But having come here and seen for myself, I felt it’s good we voted as planned, and people are taking greater precaution about distancing,” said Choi, 56, outside a Seoul polling station.
Approval ratings for Moon and his Democratic Party took a serious blow in February when the first major outbreak outside of China hit South Korea, with his government already reeling from a stagnant economy and a series of domestic political scandals.
But since then, the administration’s largely successful campaign against the virus provided a boon for Moon and his progressive party in the election.
The ruling camp secured 180 seats in the 300-member, single-chamber parliament—up from the current 120. The main conservative opposition coalition won 103 seats, according to the National Election Commission.
“In line with the strict command the people gave us, we will put top priority on overcoming the national crisis of the coronavirus and economic declines,” former prime minister Lee Nak-yon, who ran the ruling party’s campaign, said in a televised speech.
A ruling party majority in parliament will help Moon to press ahead with his agenda in his final two years in office, including looser fiscal policies, a higher minimum wage and engagement with North Korea.
The Democratic Party got a boost from the greater Seoul metropolitan area, where it seized more than 80 percent of seats up for grabs.
But the main opposition United Future Party swept the region of Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province, which was hardest hit by the outbreak of the CCP virus.
A couple wearing masks to protect against contracting the COVID-19 walk along a street in Seoul, South Korea, on April 3, 2020. (Heo Ran/Reuters)South Korea has largely managed to bring its epidemic under control without major disruption thanks to an extensive testing campaign and intensive contact tracing.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 22 new CCP virus cases on Thursday, bringing the total number to 10,613.
The daily tally of new cases has hovered around 30 in the past week, mostly people arriving from abroad.
“Though the situation is still tough, I think the government’s response to the coronavirus, including its preparations for the election, could have helped in the election,” said Han Ga-hae, a 28-year-old voter.
By Hyonhee Shin
Epoch Times staff contributed to this report.
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