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South Korea election

Young South Koreans set to have large sway in general election

More than 40% are undecided on who they will vote for in April 15 poll

A young woman poses for a picture next to a cherry blossom tree in Seoul on April 1. Many voters aged under 30 are undecided who to vote for in South Korea's April 15 general election.    © Reuters

SEOUL -- In an aging society, young voters will likely be a key constituency in South Korea's general election on April 15.

The two main parties are making promises to sway nearly 8 million voters aged 18 to 29, who represent 18.1% of the electorate. Many remain undecided.

President Moon Jae-in's ruling Democratic Party has pledged to appoint a youth minister in charge of policies for young people.

The United Future Party, the main conservative opposition, has promised to create a youth culture pass that would allow 18- to 24-year-olds to get free entrance or discounts to museums, galleries, heritage sites, performance halls and theme parks.

The voting age was lowered to 18 from 19 in January.

Younger voters tend to be less partisan than older people, many of whom stick faithfully to the liberal or conservative camp.

A Gallup Korea poll last week showed that 42% of respondents in the 18-29 age bracket supported no party, 36% preferred the Democrats and 12% backed the UFP.

Among voters of all ages, 41% said they supported Moon's party, 23% favored the UFP and 22% were undecided. The ruling party appears to have received a boost from the perception that the government is handling the coronavirus pandemic well.

"Young voters show no clear appetite for a specific party as many of them are voting for the first time," said Jeong Ji-yeon, a director at Gallup Korea. "They are also less interested in the election."

Jeong added that young voters' preferences become clear after they vote "one or two times."

Many young voters say the parties and their candidates are too focused on the immediate future.

Kang, a manager in her 20s at a tech company, said: "I think people do not trust the government and politicians because they lack transparency. Candidates are focusing on short-term help, but I think we need a realistic long-term plan."

While more young people are eligible to vote, only 15 candidates under the age of 30 are among 1,110 competing in for 300 seats in parliament. As many as 859 candidates are over 50.

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