Early voting for President of South Korea begins in shadow of COVID

Lee Jae-myung, the presidential candidate of South Korea's ruling Democratic Party, casts his early ballot for the upcoming March 9 presidential election at a polling station in Seoul
Lee Jae-myung, the presidential candidate of South Korea’s ruling Democratic Party, casts his early ballot for the upcoming March 9 presidential election at a polling station in Seoul, South Korea, March 4, 2022. Lee Hee-hoon/Pool via Reuters

March 4, 2022

Through Ju-min Park

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea began early voting for a presidential election on Friday in the shadow of the pandemic, as up to a million people with COVID-19 are expected to die during a surge that is driving one of the highest case numbers in the world To vote.

Poll workers have been deployed in protective gear, including full body suits and goggles, and voters with COVID or who are exposed to the virus are spraying hand sanitizer and wearing gloves before casting ballots, according to the National Electoral Commission.

With more than 800,000 people being treated at home for the coronavirus and nearly 800 hospitalized in intensive care, government and health officials have been trying to accommodate infected voters, including last month’s electoral law overhaul.

Those infected or in quarantine can walk to polling stations or take taxis or ambulances provided by local offices to vote in isolated booths. You get an hour at the end of the second day of early voting and an hour and a half on the last day on Wednesday.

South Korea had early success in containing outbreaks and surges through aggressive testing and contact tracing. Although the government’s pandemic management was not a major campaign focus, last week’s Omicron spike is affecting the vote as it pushes cases to record highs. Another record of daily cases and deaths was broken on Friday.[nL3N2V704Y]

Voters are choosing a replacement for Liberal President Moon Jae-in, who is unable to run for re-election due to term limits.

Yoon Suk-yeol got a boost on Thursday when another conservative stepped out and threw his support behind Yoon, in a move that could tip the balance of the hard-fought election away from the ruling Liberals. Lee Jae-myung represents Moon’s ruling party.

The race focused on finding a leader to clean up polarized politics and corruption, and tackle the skyrocketing property prices and rising inequality that have plagued Asia’s fourth largest economy.

Yoon has encouraged people with COVID or isolation to vote, saying they could make up millions out of more than 40 million eligible voters.

Both Yoon and his rival Lee and President Moon cast their ballots on Friday morning.

While the pandemic has not prevented large campaign rallies, leading presidential candidates have been conducting “no-contact” campaigns. Lee met supporters at a drive-in movie theater.

Yoon’s main opposition party launched a phone app that allows voters to follow campaign rallies where their candidate is the keynote speaker.

South Korea held national elections in 2020 and regional elections last year, requiring infected people to mail in their ballots or use special polling stations in hospitals. Daily COVID infections were in the hundreds at most at this point. This week they passed 200,000.

But while case numbers have skyrocketed, South Korea has in recent days rolled back some restrictions and suspended use of a digital tracking system credited with early success in containing the virus.

“The situation has changed a lot since the last general election, with far more cases,” said an official with the disease control agency. “And their political rights must be protected.”

(Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Jack Kim, William Mallard) Early voting for President of South Korea begins in shadow of COVID

Bobby Allyn

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