South Korea: Ruling party wins elections amid coronavirus outbreak

The party of South Korean President Moon Jae-in has won a decisive victory in parliamentary elections, with voters backing the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

South Korea was among the first countries to hold a national vote since the pandemic began.

Strict safety and social distancing measures were in place for the vote.

With nearly all votes counted, Mr Moon’s Democratic Party won 163 seats in the 300-seat National Assembly.

The party’s sister group, the Platform Party, was forecast to win a further 17 seats, giving the government a total of 180 seats.

Among the winning candidates for United Future was high-profile North Korean defector Thae Yong-ho. Mr Thae, a former senior diplomat at North Korea’s embassy in London, won a seat for the Gangnam district in Seoul.

Although 35 parties put forward candidates, the race was between the left-leaning Democratic Party and the conservative opposition, United Future Party. United Future and its parliamentary partners are expected to win 103 seats.

It is the first time in 16 years that left-leaning parties have secured a majority.

How people voted?

In order to cast their ballots, voters had to clean their hands with sanitiser, wear face masks and plastic gloves, stand at least one metre (3ft) apart, and have their temperatures taken.

Anyone with a temperature above 37.5C had to cast their vote in separate booths that were then disinfected after each use.

There are currently about 60,000 people in quarantine due to the coronavirus in South Korea.

Despite this, the overall turnout was more than 66%, the highest in 18 years, aided by the fact it was first time that 18 year olds were allowed to vote.

About 26% of the population cast their votes in advance, either by post or in early polling stations set up in quarantine stations on Friday and Saturday.

People who had tested positive for coronavirus were under strict instructions to only vote at certain times and at specially designated polling stations. They were also forbidden from using public transport and were only allowed to walk or take their own car.

South Korea briefly had the world’s second-largest outbreak of coronavirus but it was largely brought under control through a policy of widespread testing, thorough contact-tracing, and widely observed social distancing.

South Korea has never postponed an election including the presidential election of 1952, which went ahead despite the country being in the middle of the Korean War.