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Politics

South Korea to go ahead with general election despite outbreak

Nation takes special steps to ensure safety and allow virus patients to vote

South Korean army soldiers wearing protective suits move to spray disinfectant in Daegu, South Korea, on Sunday.   © AP

SEOUL -- South Korea will push ahead with next month's general election as planned, even as it grapples with the second highest number of novel coronavirus cases in Asia after China.

The country will take some extraordinary steps to ensure voting goes smoothly in the April 15 poll for the National Assembly.

The National Election Commission said infected patients can vote at hospitals, treatment centers or from home, and is considering putting ballot boxes on buses to be dispatched to these places.

All 14,000 voting stations at home and abroad will be disinfected and equipped with hand sanitizers. People going to cast ballots will have their temperatures checked, and those with fevers will be directed to special quarantined voting stations.

The commission said it will encourage people to vote in advance to reduce crowds on voting day, and people will be allowed to cast ballots two days in advance at any polling station in the nation regardless of their residence.

"We will prepare thoroughly so we don't cause any inconvenience for voters' exercising their rights," the commission said in a statement.

South Korea's electorate will pick lawmakers for 300 seats in parliament for four-year terms. President Moon Jae-in's liberal Democratic Party currently is the biggest party in the legislature, and polls put it ahead of the conservative United Future Party.

In a Gallup Korea survey last week, 39% of respondents said they would vote for the DP, followed by 22% for the UFP, and 6% for the leftist Justice Party. Still, 28% said they supported no party.

Despite more than 8,300 people being infected and over 80 deaths to date, analysts say the government's handling of the crisis will boost the ruling DP.

"I think the DP is in a better position as the government is credited for relatively good management of the virus compared to European countries," said Park Sung-min, head of Min Consulting. "If there had been no coronavirus, the DP may have faced strong challenges over President Moon's three-year record in office."

The voting age will be lowered to 18 from 19 for this election, meaning some senior high school students will vote for the first time. Voters in their 20s largely backed Moon in the 2017 presidential election.

Proportional representation will be used for the first time in the this election, potentially enabling minor parties to win more seats in parliament.

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