South Korea’s ruling liberal party has secured a resounding victory in parliamentary elections held in the shadow of the coronavirus crisis.
The vote had the highest turnout in nearly three decades despite the outbreak which has infected 10,600 people across the country and forced social distancing measures at polling places.
The comfortable majority will likely embolden president Moon Jae-in’s government to pursue its objectives, which include reviving diplomacy with nuclear-armed rival North Korea, while it grapples with a historic public health crisis that is shuttering businesses and threatening livelihoods.
“We feel heavy responsibility, which outweighs our joy of winning the election,” Democratic Party leader Lee Hae-chan said in a party meeting.
Hwang Kyo-ahn, leader of the conservative United Future Party, who lost to a Democratic Party candidate at a key Seoul district, apologised to his supporters for “failing to prevent the country from going in a wrong direction at an important time”.
More than 17 million South Koreans voted on Wednesday. When combined with the 11.8 million early and mailed-in votes, turnout was 66.2%, the highest since 71.9% turnout in a 1992 general election, the National Election Commission said.
The government had resisted calls to postpone the elections billed as a mid-term referendum on Mr Moon, who enters the final two years of his single five-year term grappling with a historic public health crisis that is unleashing massive economic shock.
We feel heavy responsibility, which outweighs our joy of winning the electionLee Hae-chan
The long queues that snaked around public offices and schools followed record-high participation in early voting held on Friday and Saturday, and defied expectations of low turnout to minimise social contact.
The National Election Commission said overall turnout was at 66.2%, the highest since 71.9% in a 1992 general election.
Wednesday’s voting, which comes amid a slowing virus caseload in South Korea, draws a contrast with an upended election cycle in the US, where some states have pushed back presidential primaries or switched to voting by mail.
To hold the parliamentary elections as scheduled, South Korean officials and health authorities drew up a deliberate set of preventive measures to reduce risks of the virus being transmitted.