South Korea’s quadrennial local elections will kick off Wednesday at 6 a.m. across 14,134 polling centers nationwide, one day after the historic meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump.
In the elections, 4,016 local administrative, legislative and educational posts are up for grabs, including the posts of 17 provincial and metropolitan chiefs and 226 heads of smaller administrative units.
On Wednesday, the parliamentary by-elections will also determine National Assembly posts for 12 districts.
In a time of high-approval ratings for President Moon Jae-in, who helped broker Tuesday’s Trump-Kim summit, the ruling Democratic Party of Korea holds an advantage in the local elections in most of the regions around the country, according to polls last week.
This year’s local elections are widely seen as an evaluation of the first-year performance of the Moon administration, which has pushed consistently for dialogue with Pyongyang.
Amid worries of low turnout due to public attention on the summit, turnout for the two-day early voting last week recorded 20.14 percent, or more than 8.64 million of 42.9 million eligible voters.
Optimism is high among National Election Commission officials that the higher-than-expected figure suggests that Wednesday’s overall turnout could surpass 60 percent.
The highest turnout for the country’s local elections was 68.3 percent in 1995 when the elections were first introduced.
“It’s a good sign that many people cast their ballots during the two-day early voting period, which could help increase the overall turnout,” Cha Tae-wook, an election watchdog official, told The Korea Herald.
“But at the same time, we also have worries that Tuesday’s summit might divert public attention from the elections simply because the summit is such a huge political event,” Cha added.
Ahead of the elections, rival parties ramped up their campaigns in key battle grounds to attract undecided voters.
In five major cities, from the southeastern port city of Busan to capital Seoul, the Democratic Party appealed for overwhelming support, while the main conservative opposition Liberty Korea Party focused on Seoul and its adjacent areas to strengthen the unity of right-wing voters.
By Bak Se-hwan (firstname.lastname@example.org