Voters Go to Polls in Largest-Ever by-Election in South Korea

Seoul, July 30 (QNA) – South Koreans began voting Wednesday in the country’s largest-ever parliamentary by-elections seen as a mid-term referendum on President Park Geun-hye’s conservative administration.

The polls carry extra weight because 15 parliamentary seats are up for grabs, the most ever for a by-election. They also come less than two months after the June 4 local elections in which neither the ruling nor the main opposition party claimed a clear-cut victory.

Voting, which started at 6am and was to run until 8pm, was proceeding without a hitch at 1,003 polling stations in 15 constituencies nationwide, including Seoul’s Dongjak-B district and three electoral districts in Suwon, just south of the capital, according to the National Election Commission (NEC).

As of 11 a.m., voter turnout came to 10.3 percent, with some 297,000 people casting their ballots, the NEC said.

Voters cast their ballots for South Korea’s largest-ever parliamentary by-elections on July 30, 2014. A record 15 parliamentary seats are up for grabs, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.

Voter turnout during the two-day early voting period that ended Saturday hit a record 7.98 percent, the highest for parliamentary by-elections but lower than 11.49 percent recorded for the June 4 local mayoral and gubernatorial elections, it added.

The by-elections come as the nation is still reeling from April’s ferry sinking that claimed the lives of more than 300 people, mostly high school students.

Public mistrust in the government has been widespread following revelations that officials botched their initial rescue response in the disaster, leading many to question the validity of last week’s official announcement that the ferry’s owner, Yoo Byung-eun, was found dead in a plum field last month.

Yoo had been the target of a massive manhunt amid allegations he took part in corrupt dealings to remodel and overload the ship to maximize business profits at the expense of passengers’ safety.

The ruling Saenuri Party has called on voters to help it reclaim an absolute majority in the 300-member National Assembly so that it can realize President Park’s pledge to reform the nation and revive the economy. The party currently holds 147 out of the 285 seats in parliament.

The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), meanwhile, has called on voters to pass judgment on the Park administration for failing to properly respond to the disaster.

On the eve of last week’s early voting, three opposition candidates withdrew their candidacies in a move to boost the chances of the opposition bloc’s victory.

Uncertainties abound over the election results, with both the ruling and main opposition parties claiming to have a clear lead in only three constituencies each.

The remaining nine races are expected to be neck-and-neck, according to the parties’ internal surveys. (QNA)

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