South Koreans began to vote Wednesday in by-elections that could be a barometer of public sentiment ahead of next year’s general elections.
Up for grabs are two parliamentary seats in South Gyeongsang Province in the country’s southeastern region and three local councilor posts in South Jeolla Province and North Gyeongsang Province.
Voting kicked off at 6 a.m. and is to run until 8 p.m. at 151 polling stations, according to the National Election Commission.
The turnout for early voting on Friday and Saturday reached 14.37 percent. For the parliamentary elections, the turnout for advance voting came to 14.71 percent.
The main focus is on who will fill the two parliamentary seats in the southeastern province, a manufacturing hub for the auto and shipbuilding industries that is bearing the brunt of the economic downturn.
There may only be two parliamentary seats being contested, but political parties see the votes as a litmus test ahead of the nationwide parliamentary elections slated for April 2020.
The constituencies at stake lie in Changwon, 400 kilometers southeast of Seoul, and Tongyeong-Goseong, 450 km southeast of the capital.
Liberal politicians have received strong voter support in Changwon — liberal candidates have been selected in three of the general elections since 2004. Conservative contenders have held firm in Tongyeong on the southeast coast, meanwhile.
During campaigning, the ruling Democratic Party highlighted its drive to boost the regional economy in South Gyeongsang Province, from where President Moon Jae-in hails.
The DP clinched an overwhelming victory in the local elections last June, aided by strong support for Moon and his drive for peace with North Korea.
But with the public support ratings for Moon and the ruling party declining, the governing party has poured its efforts into mustering liberal votes in the by-elections.
In a related move, the DP and the leftist Justice Party merged their candidacies last week.
Yeo Young-guk of the minor party secured a single candidacy in the Changwon district. The parliamentary seat has been vacant following the suicide of progressive lawmaker Roh Hoe-chan of the Justice Party.
Meanwhile, the main opposition Liberty Korea Party has eyed the by-elections as a chance to affirm its recovery from the fallout of the ousting of scandal-ridden former President Park Geun-hye. It suffered a crushing defeat in last year’s local elections.
The public support rate for the conservative party has recently rebounded to the 30-percent mark for the first time since the corruption scandal involving Park rattled the nation in late 2016.
During campaigning, the LKP highlighted what it calls the liberal government’s economic policy failure, with South Gyeongsang having been hit by the economic slowdown.
The minor opposition Bareunmirae Party has sought to win over voters by stressing its role as an alternative in the current politics marred by liberal and conservative divisions. (Yonhap)