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Assembly race heats up as early voters turn out in record numbers

Democratic Party cites high early turnout as potential advantage; People Power Party urges last-ditch efforts

By Kim Arin

Published : April 7, 2024 - 15:38

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Democratic Party of Korea chief Rep. Lee Jae-myung speaks during a rally in Seoul on Sunday. (Yonhap) Democratic Party of Korea chief Rep. Lee Jae-myung speaks during a rally in Seoul on Sunday. (Yonhap)

More registered voters than ever turned out for early voting on Friday and Saturday, further heating up the election race, with the Democratic Party of Korea claiming that it points to their advantage.

According to the National Election Commission, the early voter turnout rate was 31.2 percent -- the highest since early voting was introduced in 2016.

In the Democratic Party's turf, namely the Jeolla Provinces, the rate was highest with around 40 percent showing up to vote early. By contrast, in conservative strongholds such as Daegu, the rate was one of the lowest in the country at around 25 percent.

The Democratic Party said the high early turnout was “reflective of the South Korean public's desire to punish the Yoon Suk Yeol administration at the earliest possible date.” “The people have demonstrated their sovereign power by voting,” Rep. Kang Sun-woo, the party spokesperson, said in a statement.

The Rebuilding Korea Party, a new third party composed of Democratic Party-affiliated figures, said citizens “have responded with a fervent will to strike back at those who try to rule over the people.” The party, founded and headed by the legally embattled former Justice Minister Cho Kuk, was publicly endorsed by previous President Moon Jae-in.

History suggests a high voter turnout favors the left.

The last general election in 2020 saw a then-record-high early voting turnout of 26.6 percent. Turnout on the day of the election was also an all-time high, with 66.2 percent of registered voters having cast their ballot. The results were a landslide victory for the Democratic Party, which won some 60 percent of the seats in the National Assembly.

The main opposition Democratic Party, while stating that the high turnout would be to its benefit, is wary of more people voting early leading to a drop in voting on the day of the election on Wednesday.

Rep. Lee Jae-myung, the party’s chief, reminded a crowd of supporters during a Saturday rally that the 2022 presidential election was lost by just 0.73 percent. “If more of us had voted, we would have won. That still holds true with this election. We vote, we win,” he said.

The latest polls and analyses are raising alarms within the ruling People Power Party.

Na Kyung-won, who co-heads the People Power Party’s election steering committee, urged more of the conservative base to vote on election day in an emergency press briefing Sunday.

“The stakes of this election are too high to allow Democratic Party dominance,” she said. “Let’s show the power of votes on April 10. Now is the time to step up and not let us fall behind.”

Rep. Kweon Seong-dong, a four-term lawmaker with the ruling party, held a press briefing on the same day to deliver a similar message. “I’m taking a break from campaigning to address the dire circumstances,” he said. “The signs are not good for this election. Independent analysts say the Democratic Party may win enough seats to revise the Constitution.”

Kweon said that the coalition of the Democratic Party and its spinoff parties in the next session of the Assembly was “especially alarming.”

“Lee of the Democratic Party and Cho of the Rebuilding Korea Party share the same goal in pursuing a seat in the Assembly -- to gain immunity from the criminal charges they are facing,” he said.