SEOUL, May 9 (Yonhap) — Tens of millions of South Korean voters were set to cast their votes Tuesday to elect one candidate to lead the country for the next five years.
Voting in the country’s presidential election began at 6 a.m. at 13,964 polling stations throughout the country, the National Election Commission (NEC) said.
It was set to end at 8 p.m., instead of 6 p.m. in previous presidential elections.
The two-hour extension came as the election marked a rare presidential by-election caused by the March 10 ouster of former President Park Geun-hye by a Constitutional Court ruling over a massive corruption scandal that has also led to her arrest and indictment.
Also, unlike in the previous elections, the president-elect will be inaugurated immediately after an official declaration of his or her victory by the NEC in a meeting slated for early Wednesday.
Thirteen candidates are vying for the top elected office, but many believe the election is, in reality, a three-way race between Moon Jae-in of the liberal Democratic Party, Hong Joon-pyo of the conservative Liberty Korea Party and Ahn Cheol-soo of the center-left People’s Party.
The election had been considered tilted in favor of liberal candidates from the very onset as it followed the removal of the former conservative president over corruption allegations.
Hong, the candidate from the former ruling party, however, was seen catching up with his liberal rivals at the last minute.
The last opinion poll on the election published Wednesday had Hong and Ahn tied at 18.6 percent in second place, while Moon led the race with 42.4 percent. The publication of new opinion polls has been prohibited since as is customary to prevent the outcome of an opinion poll itself affecting the outcome of an election.
A total of over 42.4 million people, or 82 percent of the country’s 51 million population, was eligible to vote in the presidential election, marking the largest number of voters in the country’s history.
Over 26 percent or some 11 million have already cast their ballots over a two-day early voting period held last week. The turnout marked the highest rate ever in early voting, apparently indicating high public interest in the election that followed the first impeachment of a president.