300 parliamentary seats up for grabs
By Park Si-soo
D-day has finally come.
Through today’s National Assembly elections, Korea’s political landscape for the next four years will take shape. A total of 300 seats are at stake and 40.18 million eligible voters, 80 percent of 50 million Koreans, are eligible to cast ballots at 13,470 polling stations across the country. Polls will open at 6 a.m. and close at 6 p.m.
The vote takes on extra significance as its results are likely to affect the Dec. 19 presidential election. It’s the first time in 20 years that the two big elections take place in the same year.
With pre-election surveys suggesting that the ruling Saenuri Party is unlikely to retain its parliamentary majority, rival political parties made last-minute pitches to woo voters Tuesday on the eve of the election.
The conservative ruling Saenuri Party’s interim leader Park Geun-hye pleaded for support, saying her party needs enough power to keep the liberal opposition camp from becoming “colossal” with a majority in parliament and “steering the country in the wrong direction.”
“It’s up to the choice of the people, whether our Republic of Korea will choose confusion and division or open up a future of hope,” Park said during a press conference, Tuesday. “The reason the Republic of Korea exists is for the happiness of the people. I and the Saenuri Party will carry out that mission without fail.”
The largest opposition Democratic United Party (DUP) sought to increase voter turnout, portraying the elections as a referendum on what it calls the “corruption-ridden” President Lee Myung-bak and the ruling party.
“If you vote for the Saenuri Party, the Lee Myung-bak administration will win,” DUP leader Han Myeong-sook said during a street campaign in southern Seoul. “If so, the administration will not be afraid of the people...We have to punish the administration.”
The two major parties are very attentive to voter turnout since it’s expected to affect the outcome of the elections. Experts say a high turnout will mean more young voters — mostly liberal-minded thus supportive to the DUP — are participating in the balloting.
They say that a 50 percent voter turnout would bring about an outcome favorable to the ruling party, while a higher ratio will be to the DUP’s benefit.
A recent survey by the National Election Commission (NEC) said 58.1 percent of eligible voters are determined to cast ballots.
But there are many factors that can affect this. One of them is the weather. The entire country is forecast to have rainfall today, according to the Korea Meteorological Administration. More than 10 millimeters of rain is expected in Seoul and its neighboring areas, it said.
Some analysts say the actual voter turnout will be lower than the NEC survey, citing records of previous elections.
In the 2008 parliamentary elections, the NEC said 63.4 percent of eligible voters expressed their intention to participate, but the actual rate stood at 46.1 percent. Such a discrepancy was witnessed in other elections, they said, forecasting that today’s turnout will hover around somewhere between 41 and 53 percent.
Analysts say the race is so close that it is extremely difficult to predict the outcome. They agree neither side is expected to win a majority of seats in the unicameral parliament. Whichever party garners between 135 to 140 seats will likely win the dominant position.