Nation Goes to Polls Wednesday


By Lee Jin-woo
Published May 30th 2006 in Korea Times

Voters go to the polls Wednesday to elect local administrative chiefs and council members for the next four years. The 13-day official campaign period ended last night.

Up for grabs are 3,867 heads of local government and council member positions, including mayors of large cities such as Seoul and Pusan, provincial governors, 230 heads of low-level administrative offices and 3,621 members of local councils.

A total 37,064,282 people are eligible to vote at 13,106 polling stations nationwide, the National Election Commission (NEC) announced. Polling booths will open for 12 hours from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

It is feared voter turnout will be lower than the 48.9 percent in 2002. According to the commission, voter turnout is expected to be in the low 40 percent range due to public apathy toward politics and good weather fit for a family outing.

After voting ends at 6 p.m., absentee votes cast last week will be counted, while today’s ballot boxes will be moved to 259 counting offices nationwide.

Between May 26-27, the two-day absentee voting period, 705,277 of the registered 776,545 absentee voters cast ballots, the NEC said.

The commission said the public will be able to find out the mayors and governors of 16 big major cities at around 11 p.m. Full ballot counting will be completed by 3 or 4 a.m. Thursday morning.

A total 12,194 aspirants election candidates registered with the NEC. The ratio of candidates to posts for the quadrennial elections hit a record high of 3.15:1, up from 2.5:1 in 2002. The comparable figure was 2.3:1 in 1998 and 2.7:1 in 1995, according to NEC officials.

The NEC said each eligible voter will be given six voting slips including two for proportional representation councilors under the newly introduced medium-constituency system.

As for proportional representation members of each provincial or big city councils, voters will have to choose only the name of their favorite political party.

Meanwhile, leading into today’s elections, the governing and opposition parties both made last-ditch efforts to attract undecided voters.

Chung Dong-young, chairman of the governing Uri Party, made his fourth visit to Kwangju and appealed to voters to prevent a possible sweep by the main opposition Grand National Party (GNP).

After her visit to Taejon on Monday, Park Geun-hye, chairwoman of the GNP, went to Cheju Island, a closely contested area.

According to polls, the GNP leads in 11 of 16 large city and provincial contests, including Seoul and Pusan, while the Uri Party finds significant support only in North Cholla Province.

Wednesday’s national elections are the first in which 19-year-olds are eligible to vote since the legal voting age was dropped from 20.

Also, foreigners, who have lived here for three or more years since obtaining permanent residency, will be allowed to vote.