South Korea holds legislative election amid virus outbreak

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Seoul: Wearing masks and gloves, South Korean voters cast their ballots on Wednesday to elect 300 parliamentary lawmakers amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Voting kicked off at 6 am (local time) and was to run until 6 pm (local time) at 14,330 polling stations across the country, according to the National Election Commission (NEC). The number of eligible voters is 44 million, according to Yonhap news agency.

The once-in-four-years legislative election is widely seen as a referendum on President Moon Jae-in, whose five-year term will end in mid-2022, as well as a test of the country’s fight against COVID-19 under the leadership of Moon, The Strait Times reported.

South Korea has received international praise for its massive testing capability and other innovative measures, such as drive-through testing and high-tech contact tracing.

Experts, therefore, expect the ruling Democratic Party (DP) to extend its lead in Parliament, given that the government’s handling of the virus outbreak is viewed positively both at home and abroad, as per The Strait Times.

At least 10,564 people in the country have been infected by coronavirus, which has claimed 222 lives. About 2,800 patients are undergoing treatment.

The number of new cases has fallen from a high of 813 on February 29 to below 50 for six days in a row as an intensive social distancing campaign that started on March 21 remained in place.

Several surveys cited by the newspaper also showed that voters consider the pandemic as the biggest factor in their decision. A recent poll showed that 72.6 per cent of respondents rated the government’s response to the outbreak as positive.

The NEC has said that public safety at polling stations will be a priority to prevent any possible spread of the virus.

All 14,330 polling stations and 251 counting stations will be disinfected on polling day, the NEC was quoted.

Voters will undergo temperature screening and those registering temperatures of 37.5 degrees Celsius or higher or display respiratory symptoms will have to exercise their franchise at a separate booth.

Tuesday was the last of 13 days of campaigning, which saw most candidates reducing their ground activities and face-to-face encounters with voters. Instead, the candidates boosted their online presence with videos and social media engagements in a bid to win votes, according to The Strait Times.

In addition, the government has also decided to temporarily lift quarantine rules to permit self-isolators to vote in the elections. Some 50,000 people in self-isolation who have no symptoms and expressed a willingness to vote will be allowed to cast ballots after the regular voting ends in the evening.

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