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South Korea’s early voting sees major slip-ups, plans to be revised

FILE PHOTO: Yoon Suk-yeol, the presidential election candidate of South Korea's main opposition People Power Party (PPP), casts his early vote for the upcoming March 9 presidential election, at a polling station in Busan, South Korea, March 4, 2022. Yonhap via REUTERS

Early voting in South Korea was plagued by long lines outside polling stations for covonavirus patients, while other voters received ballots that had already been marked.

The news: A near-record turnout of over 37 per cent in two-day absentee voting that ended on Saturday underscores a tight race between Lee Jae-myung of the ruling Democratic Party and Yoon Suk-yeol of the conservative People Power Party.

  • As the number of COVID-19 infections rises to near-unprecedented levels of over 200,000 every day, and more than 1 million people receive treatment at home, parliament enacted a bill to make it easier for such patients to vote in person.
  • However, during Saturday’s special early voting for infected people, chaos erupted at numerous polling centres, requiring repeated apologies from the National Election Commission (NEC) for failing to provide a stable and orderly procedure.
  • “All the problems resulted from our failure at thorough preparations, and we are fully responsible for falling short of people’s trust and expectations,” it said in a statement.
Men talk beneath an installation to encourage people to vote for the upcoming March 9 presidential election in Seoul, South Korea, March 7, 2022. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

What’s going on: There was no evidence of foul play, according to the report, but officials held an emergency meeting on Monday to strengthen processes in advance of the larger vote on Wednesday.

  • According to his spokesman, President Moon Jae-in expressed regret on Sunday, requesting the NEC to clearly explain the flaws and protect everyone’s right to vote.
  • The disruption at many polling stations was a setback for South Korea, damaging a 35-year democratic heritage of strict and transparent election management, as well as a largely successful fight on COVID-19.
  • Rather than allowing voters to cast ballots directly, some election workers gathered them and brought them in a shopping bag or wooden bucket to designated ballot boxes, according to the NEC.
  • Some voters were given ballot papers that had already been cast, while others were forced to stand in long lines in the freezing cold, with at least one voter fainting.
  • The campaign of opposition candidate Yoon slammed the NEC, claiming that even elementary school election could not be sloppier, and called for its chairperson, Noh Jeong-hee, to resign.
  • While rejecting the opposition’s call for Noh’s resignation, Lee’s party sought steps to avoid further misunderstanding.
A woman walks past posters of candidates for the upcoming March 9 presidential election in Seoul, South Korea, March 7, 2022. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

What’s important: About 44 million South Koreans are eligible to vote for Moon’s successor. At a time when voters are increasingly frustrated by surging property prices, polarised politics, and graft scandals, he is legally forbidden from seeking re-election.

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