Virus response paves way for poll rout
China Daily Global

Ballots are counted at a polling station for the parliamentary elections in Seoul, South Korea, on Wednesday.(Photo: Xinhua)

South Korea ruling party rewarded with absolute majority for outbreak nous

SEOUL-South Korean President Moon Jae-in's ruling party has gained a landslide victory in parliamentary elections on the back of the country's success in containing its novel coronavirus outbreak, results showed on Thursday.

The ruling camp has secured an absolute majority, with 180 seats in the 300-member, single-chamber parliament-up from 120. The main conservative opposition coalition won 103 seats, the National Election Commission said.

The poll on Wednesday was watched around the world as one of the first national elections to be held since the outbreak began.

Authorities took stringent safety measures, disinfecting all 14,000 polling stations and requiring voters to wear masks, have their temperatures checked, use hand sanitizer and plastic gloves and maintain a safe distance from others.

Driven by record high participation in early voting over the weekend, the turnout was 66.2 percent, higher than for any parliamentary elections held since 1992, according to the election commission.

Analysts struggled to explain the surprisingly high turnout. Some said fear and alertness over the pandemic may have driven voters to support Moon's government so it could fight the virus and its impact with more political stability.

Approval ratings for Moon and his Democratic Party took a serious blow in February when the first major outbreak outside China hit South Korea, which was already reeling from a stagnant economy and a series of domestic political scandals.

But since then, the administration's largely successful campaign against the virus provided a boon in popularity for Moon and his progressive party.

"Though the situation is still tough, I think the government's response to the coronavirus, including its preparations for the vote, could have helped in the election," said Han Ga-hae, a 28-year-old voter.

About 2,800 coronavirus patients were allowed to vote by mail or in person, using special booths, while more than 13,000 in self-quarantine cast their ballots after polls closed.

Moon, in a statement, thanked the country's "great people" for "giving strength to a government that's fighting desperately to overcome a national crisis".

'Heavy responsibility'

Democratic Party leader Lee Haechan told a party meeting: "We feel heavy responsibility, which outweighs our joy of winning the election. We will make preemptive and aggressive efforts to overcome the novel coronavirus crisis and the threat it poses to livelihoods and the national economy."

Former prime minister Lee Nakyon, who ran the ruling party's campaign, said in a televised speech that the victory was a "strict command" from the voters to tackle the virus and minimize its economic impact.

A ruling party majority in parliament will help Moon to press ahead with his agenda in his final two years in office, including looser fiscal policies aimed at creating jobs and a higher minimum wage.

The Democratic Party got a boost from the greater Seoul metropolitan area, where it seized more than 80 percent of the seats up for grabs.

One setback was in the region of Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province, which was hardest hit by the outbreak.

The area is a longtime conservative stronghold and experts say voter sentiment against the government may have been further fueled by the initial struggle with the surge in cases there, including controversy over whether a lockdown was necessary.

South Korea has largely managed to bring its epidemic under control without major disruption thanks to an extensive testing campaign and intensive contact tracing, earning praise from the World Health Organization, as well as other nations.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 22 new cases on Thursday, bringing the total number to 10,613 with 229 deaths.

The daily tally of new cases has hovered around 30 in the past week, mostly people arriving from abroad.

Agencies Via Xinhua