Seoul, Apr 7 (efe-epa).- Seoul on Wednesday headed to the polls to choose a new mayor in a key vote seen as a barometer of the South Korean presidential election next year in which the candidate of the main conservative opposition party is favorite to win.
The country’s second largest city, Busan, is also voting for a new mayor on Wednesday with the candidate of the conservative People Power Party (PPP), Park Heong-joon, also leading the polls.
Nearly 3,500 voting centers across both cities opened at 6 am and will close at 8 pm.
Some 8.4 million people are eligible to vote in the election in Seoul, and about 2.9 million in Busan.
Voting in both cities is taking place amid strict health measures, as had happened during the last year’s legislative elections, when not a single Covid-19 case was recorded.
These mayoral elections, especially in Seoul, which is home to a fifth of South Korea’s population, are viewed as a barometer of public opinion ahead of the presidential elections in March 2022.
The by-elections come at a time when the approval ratings for President Moon Jae-in and his ruling Democratic Party (DP) have fallen to record lows due to soaring housing prices and a scandal about real estate speculation involving officials from South Korea’s top housing agency.
The elections are being held earlier than scheduled after the liberal mayors of both cities, Park Won Soon in Seoul and Oh Keo-don in Busan, were involved in cases of alleged sexual harassment.
Park reportedly committed suicide in July last year in the wake of sexual harassment allegations by a city council official, while Oh resigned almost a year ago after a female staffer publicly stated that he had harassed her during a meeting, an allegation to which the former mayor admitted.
Amid this, the PPP has been gaining the support that the liberals have lost.
Oh Se-hoon has a 20-point lead in the polls in Seoul over DP candidate Park Young-sun, a former minister in the Moon administration while Park Heong-joon is also showing a solid advantage in Busan against liberal Kim Young-choon, who was also part of the current president’s cabinet. EFE-EPA