SEOUL: Tens of millions of South Koreans will cast their votes on Wednesday, wrapping up a closely fought presidential election where top candidates have more critics than supporters.
The race to succeed President Moon Jae-in has boiled down to a showdown between ruling liberal Democratic Party candidate, Lee Jae-myung, and Yoon Suk-yeol of the conservative main opposition People Power Party.
South Korea’s constitution bars Moon from seeking re-election, as presidency is limited to a single five-year term.
A survey by Gallup Korea released on March 2, the last day for publication of polls under election rules, showed Lee and Yoon running neck and neck, with approval ratings of 38 percent and 39 percent, respectively.
“Thus far, the presidential elections were won by those leading the contest in the last poll released before the blackout period. But I am not so sure whether the trend will continue this time around,” Shin Yul, political science professor at Myongji University, told Arab News.
More than 44 million people out of the country’s 52 million population are eligible to vote, and around 16 million have already cast ballots during early voting last Friday.
The winner of the election, who will be sworn into office in May, will lead a fast-aging nation grappling with a growing nuclear threat from North Korea, economic inequalities, and skyrocketing housing prices that have become one of the major concerns for voters.
A voter turnout higher than in 2017 was anticipated this year.
“The overall voting turnout is expected to top 80 percent,” politics professor Lee Joon-han from Incheon National University, told Arab News.
“People have big interest in the tight race.”
The two leading candidates have promised to provide millions of public housing units to create more jobs and offered economic relief to small business owners hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
The race between Lee and Yoon has been shaped by mudslinging, lawsuits, and scandals, as opinion surveys show that both candidates have more critics than supporters.
Lee, the 57-year-old former governor of the populous Gyeonggi province that surrounds the capital Seoul, has touted social security programs, promised universal basic income, and vowed to continue Moon’s conciliatory approach toward North Korea.
Yoon, 61, entered party politics last year. He served as the country’s top prosecutor and headed an investigation into a corruption scandal that involved former President Park Geun-hye.
Yoon has vowed to strengthen alliance with the US and said he would launch pre-emptive strikes on North Korea if it showed signs of imminent attack.