SEOUL — South Korea’s ruling party has won by a landslide in a parliamentary election that attracted the highest voter turn out in 28 years, despite being held during the coronavirus pandemic.
According to final results from Wednesday’s election, President Moon Jae-in’s Democratic Party won 180 of the 300 seats in the National Assembly, boosting the party’s seats by 60.
This is the biggest win by any party since the current democratic constitution was established in 1987.
“The world had marveled again at this general election,” Moon said in a statement following the win. “Thank you for giving strength to our government to overcome the crisis.”
The election — which was the first nationwide vote held in a country with a significant coronavirus outbreak — was also remarkable for its turnout.
The country saw a turnout of 66.2% — the highest turnout in a parliamentary election since 1992, when there was a 71.9% turnout. More than a quarter of the country’s 44 million voters cast their ballot early for Wednesday’s election — a record proportion of early voters.
The coronavirus has infected at least 10,560 people in South Korea alone. But South Korea’s government has won praise for its handling of the crisis, and already more than 7,500 people in the country have recovered.
Prior to the election, Moon’s coronavirus response boosted his approval rating, according to Gallup Korea surveys.
But it was not a typical election — voters wore masks and gloves, polling booths were disinfected, and people spaced out as they queued up to vote. While election campaigns in the country are often festive, featuring K-pop style dance troupes, this election season was more sedate. Candidates wore gloves and face masks as they campaigned on the streets of Seoul.
At Seoul’s Samseon-dong polling station on Wednesday, stickers on the ground outside indicated where voters should stand so that they were spaced at least one meter (three feet) apart from one another as they queued up to cast their ballot.
At the door, voters were handed masks and gloves and a polling station officer took their temperature. Anyone with a temperature of more than 37.5 degrees Celsius (99.5 degrees Farenheit) was required to vote in a special booth. All polling booths were regularly disinfected.
As voters left the station, they could discard their gloves in a box.
There were also special precautions for those who were sick with coronavirus or quarantined at home.
Voting booths were set up at government-run isolation centers. Initially, those under self-quarantine were unable to vote, but the authorities introduced provisions meaning they will be allowed to leave their house to vote after polling booths close to the public at 6 p.m. on Wednesday.
South Korea’s high turnout came despite experts warning that voting during a pandemic may result in a lower turnout, as voters may be too concerned for their health to head to the polls.
Voters CNN talked to ahead of the election were supportive of the decision to go ahead, and some said the pandemic made voting even more important.
Duyeon Kim, a senior advisor at non-profit International Crisis Group, said without the pandemic, it might have been a harder race for Moon’s party. But during the campaign, the Democratic Party played up the government’s response to the coronavirus.
“This tells other world leaders that how they respond to their own crisis could make or break their political fortunes because the pandemic is at the top of everyone’s mind, most likely eclipsing other issues that would normally determine votes,” Kim said.