As South Korea proceeds with its general election, scheduled to be held next Wed (15 Apr), officials have taken strict safety precautions at polling stations set up for citizens quarantined in eight special facilities across the country.
Over 3,000 South Koreans with mild COVID-19 symptoms under treatment, as well as 900 medical personnel at treatment centres in Seoul and Daegu, were given the opportunity to cast their votes early on Fri (10 Apr).
In the southern city of Gyeongju, voters stood at least one metre apart from one another while wearing protective masks and disposable plastic coats. They were also required to don plastic gloves after having sanitised their hands, AFP reported.
Officials did away with fingerprint checks as voters were wearing plastic gloves. Instead, machines were used to conduct face identification.
Yonhap News Agency reported that voters underwent temperature checks. Some officials were also seen wearing plexiglass covering most of their faces as an enhanced safety measure, Yonhap added.
The National Election Commission (NEC) said that it had set up a total of 3,508 polling stations nationwide, running from 6am to 6pm during the two-day voting period today and tomorrow.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun, who was among those who cast their ballots early, told reporters on Fri after voting at a polling booth in central Seoul: “It seems that social distancing is being kept at the polling station … The public can be assured and come out to vote.”
“It would be great if they could make use of early voting today and tomorrow,” he added.
President Moon Jae-in cast his ballot the same day at a polling station near the Blue House, South Korea’s presidential office.
Lee Nak-yon, a former prime minister running for the parliament, said that political candidates and parties are “refraining from large rallies as much as possible and also limiting personal contact during campaigns”.
The South Korean government’s management of the COVID-19 outbreak in the country, according to analysts cited by Nikkei Asian Review, has overshadowed other major problems the nation is grappling with, such as “failed economic policies, corruption scandals, and the lack of a breakthrough in talks with North Korea”.
Park Won-ho, professor at the Department of Political Science and International Relations at Seoul National University, told Bloomberg that South Korea’s legislative election this year is “highly likely to be an extremely polarized election”.
“Only those willing to pay for the cost of a possible infection will come to the polls, which will result in over-sampling” of voters on the extreme right and left of the political spectrum, said Professor Park.
South Korea’s new COVID-19 infections fell to 27 on Fri, the lowest daily number of new infections in the country since the end of Feb. 7,117 people have recovered from the virus, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).
The city of Daegu, which contributed to over more than half of all South Korea’s total confirmed COVID-19 cases to date, today reported zero new cases for the first time since the Shincheonji gathering cluster in late Feb.
Currently, South Korea has recorded 10,450 COVID-19 cases in total.
While South Korea’s general election date was earlier scheduled by law, the date of Singapore’s looming general election remains uncertain despite the release of the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC) report last month and, more recently, the announcement of the tabling of a Bill in Parliament this week, which sets out contingency plans to ensure a safe election during the COVID-19 pandemic.
TOC earlier this week reported receiving several tip-offs that the Elections Department, which comes under the Prime Minister’s Office, is in fact already preparing for an election in May or Jun, based on job advertisements relating to elections preparations on various job-seeking platforms.
Previously, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on 27 Mar told reporters in a doorstop interview at the Istana that Singapore has to “weigh conducting an election under abnormal circumstances, against going into a storm with a mandate which is reaching the end of its term”.
“I would not rule any possibility out,” he added.