South Korea has moved ahead with its election on Wednesday in the shadow of the spreading coronavirus.
The government resisted calls to postpone the midterm referendum for President Moon Jae-in, who enters the final years of his term grappling with a historic public health crisis that is unleashing massive economic shock.
While South Korea’s electorate is deeply divided along regional, ideological and generational lines, recent surveys showed growing support for Mr Moon and his liberal party.
The results reflect the public’s approval of an aggressive test-and-quarantine program that has so far been credited for lower fatality rates compared to worst-hit areas in China, Europe and North America.
The long lines of masked voters that snaked around public offices and schools followed record-high participation in early voting held on Friday and Saturday.
Around 87,000 of South Korea’s 172,000 eligible voters overseas were denied absentee voting after polling was ruled out in dozens of diplomatic offices worldwide as the pandemic grew.
The voting in South Korea draws contrast with an upended election cycle in the United States, where some states pushed back presidential primaries or switched to voting by mail.
To hold the parliamentary elections as scheduled, South Korean election officials and health authorities drew up a deliberate set of preventive measures to reduce risks of the virus being transmitted.
These included marked social-distancing space, temperature checks and the regular sanitising of polling booths.
The government also mapped out a late-night voting process for citizens quarantined at their homes, a number that ballooned after the country began enforcing two-week quarantines on all arrivals from overseas on April 1.
Hospitalised virus patients were also able to vote by mail if they had applied. Around 400 mildly ill patients participated in early voting.
South Korea has confirmed more than 10,500 infections and 225 deaths from Covid-19 with new cases declining in recent weeks.
Before the virus began absorbing public attention, President Moon saw his support falter over a decaying job market, corruption scandals surrounding key political allies and an ambitious but fragile diplomacy with rival North Korea.
A ruling party victory will likely embolden Mr Moon to drive his key domestic and foreign policies, including resuming inter-Korean cooperation and inducing US-North Korea talks, said Duyeon Kim, a senior adviser at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.
“If the opposition wins, Moon will likely become a lame duck, and party politics will quickly pivot to preparing for the 2022 presidential elections,” she said.