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Voter turnout may reach highest levels in twenty years

May 09,2017
The National Election Commission said Monday that the turnout of today’s presidential election will be around 80 percent and the winner will be announced Wednesday morning.

“Voters are showing a strong intention to vote in various polls, including one by the commission, and the voting time has been extended by two hours because it is a snap election,” an official of the National Election Commission said Monday. Voting will begin at 6 a.m. and end at 8 p.m. “The turnout for early voting was 26.1 percent, so we expect total turnout to be around 80 percent.”

A turnout over 80 percent has not happened since the presidential election of 1997. The highest turnout in Korean history was 89.2 percent in 1987, when the country first introduced direct elections. Turnout then dropped to 81.9 percent in 1992, 80.7 percent in 1997, 70.8 percent in 2002 and 63 percent in 2007. The 2012 presidential election recorded 75.8 percent.

More than 11 million people, or 26.1 percent of the nation’s 42.4 million eligible voters, cast votes on Thursday and Friday ahead of today’s election. Early turnout last year was only 12.2 percent, and in the 2014 local elections it was 11.5 percent.

“Turnout will be around 80 percent,” Lee Jun-han, a political science professor at Incheon National University, told the JoongAng Ilbo. “If it is higher than 90 percent, although chances are slim, it will become a landmark event and will show that representative, participatory democracy has taken root in our society since the 1987 democratization.”

The National Election Commission said the ballot counting process will take longer than in past elections, and the process will be completed around 6 or 7 a.m. on Wednesday. The counting ended at 5:08 a.m. the next day in the 2012 presidential election and at 3:10 a.m. after the 2007 presidential election.

The commission said the ballots are larger in size because there are 15 candidates. The ballot counting machines will take longer to read the 28.5 centimeter (11.2 inch) ballots, the commission said. Each machine will be able to process 190 ballots per minute, down from the average 310 ballots per minute.

The outcome at local commissions will be combined at the National Election Commission, and the head of the commission will announce the winner between 8 and 10 a.m. on Wednesday.

Blue House Chief of Staff Han Gwang-ok and senior secretaries submitted their resignations to acting president and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn on Monday. They are expected to work until today. “It is proper for the current administration’s Blue House secretaries to vacate their posts before the new president is finalized Wednesday morning,” said a Blue House official.

Kim Kan-jin, head of the National Security Office, and Park Heung-ryul, head of the Presidential Security Service, also submitted their resignations, sources said. They are still expected to show up for work on Wednesday.

Because Blue House aides do not go through the National Assembly’s confirmation hearings, the new president is expected to appoint the new chief of staff and senior secretaries upon taking office.

Hwang will tender his resignation as soon as the winner is announced. The new president, however, may keep Hwang on until the new prime minister and cabinet members are decided since the National Assembly’s confirmation is mandatory to appoint a prime minister.

“Because there will be no transition period, the incoming administration may face a significant administrative vacuum,” Hwang said. “If the new president has an opinion [about when I should leave], I will of course consider it.”

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]