Coronavirus pandemic

S. Korean polls campaigning gets creative amid outbreak

Officials of the National Election Commission putting up campaign posters in Seoul yesterday. South Koreans go to the polls on April 15 to elect a new National Assembly, the country's Parliament. PHOTO: EPA-EFE Independent candidate Lee Heng-suk, dre
Posters for South Korea's general election, scheduled for April 15, along the Cheonggye stream in Seoul yesterday. The government's response to Covid-19 is expected to be the main issue dominating the polls. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Officials of the National Election Commission putting up campaign posters in Seoul yesterday. South Koreans go to the polls on April 15 to elect a new National Assembly, the country's Parliament. PHOTO: EPA-EFE Independent candidate Lee Heng-suk, dre
Officials of the National Election Commission putting up campaign posters in Seoul yesterday. South Koreans go to the polls on April 15 to elect a new National Assembly, the country's Parliament. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Officials of the National Election Commission putting up campaign posters in Seoul yesterday. South Koreans go to the polls on April 15 to elect a new National Assembly, the country's Parliament. PHOTO: EPA-EFE Independent candidate Lee Heng-suk, dre
Independent candidate Lee Heng-suk, dressed up as French warrior Joan of Arc, riding a horse to greet voters in Incheon city. PHOTO: LEE HENG-SUK/FACEBOOK

Candidates lend hand to curb virus spread, turn to social media as voters stay home

Campaigning for the upcoming general election in South Korea has kicked off, with some candidates riding trucks, electric scooters and even a horse around town to attract attention, as well as helping with disinfection works to curb the spread of the coronavirus which has infected nearly 10,000 people.

Many candidates are also turning to social media to canvass for support, as voters stay home amid the pandemic.

South Korea reported 89 new cases yesterday, bringing the total to 9,976. The death toll stood at 169.

The government's response to the outbreak is expected to be the main issue dominating the polls, and pundits say South Korea's highly praised swift response, massive testing capability and innovative tech solutions, which include drive-through testing, will boost support for President Moon Jae-in and the ruling Democratic Party.

South Koreans go to the polls on April 15 to elect a new National Assembly, the country's Parliament.

The left-leaning Democratic Party has the most seats - 120 out of 300 seats - while the main opposition, the conservative United Future Party, has 92 seats. Both sides hope to boost their parliamentary presence as neither has a two-thirds majority required to pass laws.

With the coronavirus wreaking havoc around the world, experts expect candidates will come up with creative new ways of campaigning that minimise physical contact with voters. Traditional methods would have required close interaction, such as meeting face-to-face and shaking hands.

Candidates are also expected to focus on online campaigns and coronavirus-related volunteer work.

Independent candidate Lee Heng-suk, for one, dressed up as French warrior Joan of Arc and rode a horse to greet voters of a ward in Incheon city yesterday morning. "Hold my hand and I will win this election!" she wrote in a Facebook post, sharing videos of her horse-riding adventure.

Other candidates rode bicycles, tricycles and electric scooters to set themselves apart from the usual campaign trucks that go around the neighbourhood.

There are also politicians who decided to contribute to the virus fight in a bid to score brownie points.

LOTS CAN CHANGE IN TWO WEEKS

Covid-19 is a favourable factor for the ruling party now, but there are two weeks left to the polls and other issues can emerge.

PROFESSOR CHA JAE-WON, of the Catholic University of Pusan

Two key candidates for Seoul's central Jongno ward, Mr Lee Nak-yon of the Democratic Party and Mr Hwang Kyo-ahn of the United Future Party, have both gone around disinfecting the streets and facilities in the neighbourhood.

Mr Lee, after visiting a mart yesterday, told reporters that the party will "focus on how to overcome the coronavirus crisis and ease people's pain".

Mr Ahn Cheol-soo of the minor opposition People's Party, on the other hand, put his doctor's licence to good use in the south-eastern city Daegu, where 70 per cent of the country's cases are from.

The doctor-turned-software mogul volunteered to treat patients at the Keimyung University Daegu Dongsan Medical Centre last month. Images of him suited up in full protective gear and drenched in sweat wearing a surgical scrub went viral, earning him praise.

Canvassing is also heating up online, with many candidates uploading campaign videos to YouTube and actively posting on Facebook and Twitter to reach out to voters.

Mr Han Jun-ho, a candidate in Goyang city, north-west of Seoul, even displayed a QR code on his banner for voters to scan and connect to his speech online.

Experts say the government's response to the coronavirus so far favours the ruling party, but it remains to be seen if the Democratic Party can keep this edge.

Professor Cha Jae-won of the Catholic University of Pusan said problems with a shortage of masks worked against the ruling party in the beginning, but the situation changed "after South Korea became a role model for the rest of the world in terms of handling the pandemic".

"Covid-19 is a favourable factor for the ruling party now, but there are two weeks left to the polls and other issues can emerge," he told YTN.

"We're not sure how the virus will spread and the crisis-battered economy is another important factor."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 03, 2020, with the headline 'S. Korean polls campaigning gets creative amid outbreak'. Print Edition | Subscribe