In a queue at a polling center in Yongsan District, northern Seoul, Park Jung-sook, 54, was finally nearing the voting booth, sure of which candidate she would cast her ballot for.
For the long-time supporter of a conservative party who works as a freelancer, the quadrennial local elections used to be all about left and right in South Korea’s highly divided politics.
But it all feels new this time around, she said.
“I think there is no right or left when it comes to building a lasting peace with North Korea, especially at this time of rapid change in the regional security environment,” Park told The Korea Herald. “Beyond other political issues, I think it’s more important for me to vote for candidates who can help the liberal Moon Jae-in administration continue to do its job,” Park said.
Voters stand in line at a polling station in Yongsan, northern Seoul, to cast their ballots in local elections on Wednesday. Yim Hyun-su/The Korea Herald
Since polls opened Wednesday at 6 a.m., voters headed to around 14,134 polling centers nationwide to select 4,016 local administrative, legislative and educational posts, including 17 metropolitan mayors and provincial governors.
Park was not alone in deciding to suspend his support for the right after the historic summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, which was held just a day earlier in Singapore.
The change in sentiment among conservative voters seemed evident when The Korea Herald visited two polling centers in Yongsan, one of the capital city’s key battleground districts.
“I watched Tuesday’s US-North Korea summit, and President Moon did good work there (helping broker the summit),” said 71-year-old female voter who asked not to be named.
“And I guess the ruling party’s candidates will do the same as well, only this time for my village,” she said, in the afternoon who went to the polling booth in the same district.
Optimism was high among the ruling Democratic Party of Korea party’s candidates that the elections will prove a landslide, aided by widespread support for President Moon and recent rapprochement on the Korean Peninsula.
Final public polls conducted last week showed overwhelming leads for candidates from the ruling party, whose members include Moon.
Overshadowed by the Trump-Kim summit, this year’s local elections has seen less focus on candidates’ policies or pledges, some voters complained.
“I’m here because voting is the right of every citizen, but honestly, I don’t know much about the candidates and their pledges,” Kim Jung-yeol, a 62-year-old housewife said.
“I just voted for candidates who looked more competent,” Kim said.
For younger generations, the June 13 local elections is considered an opportunity to raise voices against now jailed former President Park Geun-hye, who was impeached last year and found guilty of bribery and coercion earlier this year.
Park was succeeded by the current President Moon in May last year.
Former ruling conservative Saenuri Party under the previous Park administration split off into the main conservative opposition Liberty Korea Party and the Bareun Party (now Bareunmirae Party).
“I believe the previous government (and its corruption scandal) helped boost voter turnout among young people,” said Seoul resident Son Hyun-tak, 36, who came to vote with his girlfriend.
“I’m not expecting direct economic and social benefits through the elections, but at least I now closely pay attention to politics,” Son said.
A high turnout is expected to favor the ruling party, whose main support base is young voters.
Last week’s early voting turnout recorded 20.14 percent, or more than 8.64 million of 42.9 million eligible voters. The figure was higher than expected, according to officials from the National Election Commission, which hopes Wednesday’s overall turnout to surpass 60 percent.
Voters had a choice to select as many as eight candidates at different levels of office, as parliamentary by-elections were also held simultaneously.
By Bak Se-hwan (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Korea Herald’s Chyung Eun-ju and Yim Hyun-su contributed to this article. --Ed