SEOUL — As some South Korean voters walked out of polling stations on an unusually hot election day, others lingered in voting booths, ballot in hand.
“Elections past were clearly one person oriented, but now it’s different,” said one voter, Kim Do-hyung, 29, who said he was preparing to apply for jobs in the construction industry. information technology. “There are a lot of people around me who are struggling to make up their minds.”
In interviews, many voters expressed uncertainty about their choice, as the scandals and negative campaigns that had plagued much of the presidential race made neither of the two favorites, Lee Jae-myung and Yoon Suk -yeol, most desirable. South Korean media called the race “mud fight» and an election of « detestables ».
But late Wednesday afternoon turnout was higher than it had been at around the same time in the past two presidential elections, likely in part driven by expectations of a close race. .
Public opinion polls last week showed a very slim margin between the two leading candidates. By comparison, President Moon Jae-in won in 2017 with a 17-point lead over second-place finisher – the biggest margin of victory in history.
“This election looks more complicated than five years ago,” said Ji Hee-yeon, 65, who said he made a last-minute decision in the voting booth. “My mind has always changed. I didn’t know which would be a good choice.
Ahn Da-young, 29, said she only reached a decision the day before her early vote on Saturday, when she chose Sim Sang-jung, a third-party candidate and one of the few women to to hope.
“I don’t think she will get elected, but I didn’t just want to choose someone I didn’t like less,” Ms Ahn said. “She was the candidate I most wanted to choose in terms of political views.”
The disenchantment of some voters could stem from concern over the state of the country, which is currently facing a push from Omicron. On Wednesday, new daily cases topped 342,000 and 1.2 million people were being treated for Covid-19, nearly a quarter of the country’s total cases since the start of the pandemic.
Voters also expressed disappointment with the current government, citing difficulties such as the country’s soaring house prices. While Mr Moon enjoyed a historically high approval rating at the start of his term, it fell to 45% last week, according to Gallup Korea. Many voters said this election would be a judgment call by his administration.
“The current administration gets no score in my book,” said Lee Jae-don, 81, a retiree. “He didn’t do anything good.”
Even Park Seo-youl, 37, who voted for Mr Lee, the candidate for Mr Moon’s party, said she chose him because she hoped he would enact the most reforms.
“I think it’s the candidate who will change something,” said Ms. Park, a translator in Seoul. “Reform is overdue.”
The election also coincided with growing bitterness over South Korea’s well-documented income gap and gender inequality.
“What bothers me more than anything else is that this seems to be a time when men and women are more divided, rich and poor are further apart, and people are more suspicious,” Stella Lee said. , 36, who works in an architecture firm in Seoul.
“The seeds of mistrust are everywhere,” she added. “I don’t think they’re going to go away anytime soon.”