Absentee voting for South Korea’s presidential election kicked off Thursday, with each competing camp claiming that the uncertainty surrounding North Korea’s long-range rocket launch will sway voters to their side. With the main election just six days away, voting began at 6 a.m. at polling stations nationwide. A record 1.09 million voters have registered to cast their ballots during the two-day absentee voting period that ends at 4 p.m. Friday, the National Election Commission said. The vote comes a day after North Korea launched a three-stage long-range rocket in defiance of international warnings and successfully put a satellite into orbit.
South Korea, the United States and other nations have condemned the launch as a disguised ballistic missile test that goes against United Nations resolutions. The launch quickly turned the presidential race into a test of the candidates’ competence concerning national security issues.
Shortly after the blast-off, ruling Saenuri Party candidate Park Geun-hye and main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP) contender Moon Jae-in denounced the North’s move on their respective campaign trails and appealed to public concerns about national defense.
National security is likely to be a priority issue for more than half the registered absentee voters, or about 560,000, who are estimated to belong to the military or police force. North Korea issues have often been used to consolidate the conservative vote in past elections.