Anchor: Voting kicked off at 6 a.m. Wednesday to fill 21 posts nationwide, including the closely-watched mayoral races in Seoul and Busan. The nation's election watchdog said as of 4:00 p.m., the turnout, including last week's early voting, stood at 46-point-one percent. The final voting rate for the 2019 by-elections was 48 percent.
Choi You Sun reports.
[sound bites: ruling and opposition street campaigns (Apr. 6) ]
With the echoes of robust campaigning now behind them, voters across the country have been heading to the polls since 6:00 a.m. Wednesday in by-elections that will elect 21 leaders nationwide.
Key among the races are the mayorships in Seoul and Busan, viewed as a bellwether for next year's presidential election.
[Sound bite: Seo Jung-kuk (58) - Seoul resident (Korean-English translation)]
"It is regrettable that the by-election is taking place without the previous mayor finishing his term. I am here because I think it is my duty as a Seoul citizen to vote for the next mayor."
Eligible voters must cast their ballots at designated sites by 8:00 p.m. and follow strict COVID-19 quarantine rules, including wearing masks and disposable gloves. Those quarantining at home will be allowed to vote after 8 p.m.
Ballot counting will begin at 55 locations nationwide between 8 and 8:30 p.m.
With less than a year left to the presidential race, rival political parties have exerted full-fledged efforts toward securing support ahead of the by-elections.
The ruling Democratic Party(DP) sought to solidify its base by focusing its campaign on land speculation rumors surrounding the main opposition People Power Party’s(PPP) Seoul mayoral candidate Oh Se-hoon.
The PPP, on the other hand, sought to win support from moderates, calling for judgment to be passed on the Moon Jae-in administration and the ruling DP in the aftermath of public outrage over alleged land speculation by employees at the state-run Korea Land and Housing Corporation(LH).
The actual voting rate on Wednesday is expected to be the final factor contributing to the outcome of the elections.
While the early voting rate from last Friday and Saturday stood at a record high for by-elections of 20-point-54 percent, pollsters forecast that a final voting rate of less than 50 percent will act in favor of the DP, while over that will be in favor of the PPP.
Choi You Sun, KBS World Radio News.
Anchor Outro: The results of exit polls by South Korea's three major broadcasters - KBS, SBS and MBC - will be released at 8:15 p.m.