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S. Korea wraps up early voting for by-elections

2014/07/26 21:39

SEOUL, July 26 (Yonhap) -- An unexpectedly large number of voters cast their ballots as South Korea wrapped up two days of early voting for the July 30 parliamentary by-elections seen as a mid-term referendum on President Park Geun-hye's conservative government, election officials said Saturday.

total of 229,986 South Koreans, or 7.98 percent of the total eligible voters went to 257 polling stations in 15 constituencies across the country to take part in the two-day early voting, said officials at the National Election Commission.

The figure is the highest for parliamentary by-elections but lower than 11.49 percent recorded for the June 4 local mayoral and gubernatorial elections.

The July 30 polls carry extra weight because a record 15 parliamentary seats are up for grabs, the largest-ever for a by-election. They also come less than two months after the June 4 local elections in which neither the ruling nor the main opposition party claimed a clear-cut victory.

The ruling Saenuri Party has vowed to reclaim an absolute majority in the 300-member National Assembly, where it currently holds 147 out of the 285 seats.

The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) calls on voters to pass judgement on the Park administration which has failed to properly respond to April's ferry sinking that left more than 300 people killed or missing, mostly high school students.

On the eve of this week's early voting, three opposition candidates withdrew their candidacies in a move to boost the chances of the opposition bloc's victory.

Gi Dong-min of NPAD withdrew from Seoul's Dongjak-B constituency to support Roh Hoe-chan of the minor opposition Justice Party. The merger came as Na Kyung-won of the ruling party was seen as having a clear lead over the two.

Cheon Ho-sun, the chief of the Justice Party, also quit the race in Suwon, just south of Seoul, to back Park Kwang-on of the NPAD, while the Justice Party's Lee Jeong-mi withdrew from another district in Suwon, leaving NPAD's Sohn Hak-kyu as the main opposition candidate in the race.

Public polls show ruling Saenuri party candidates leading in most of the 15 constituencies they are vying for.

A poll by Gallup Korea earlier this month also showed that 43 percent of the respondents supported the ruling party, which compared with 26 percent for the main opposition party. The survey was conducted on 1,023 South Koreans aged over 19 between July 15-17.