South Korea votes in legislative elections viewed as referendum on President Moon

South Koreans head to the polls today for legislative elections, the first country with a major COVID-19 outbreak to hold

south korea election 2020

Photo: Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty

South Koreans head to the polls today for legislative elections, the first country with a major COVID-19 outbreak to hold a nationwide vote since the pandemic began.

All 300 seats of the unicameral National Assembly will be decided by today’s vote. The election is being closely watched for lessons on conducting a national poll during a pandemic. A series of extensive measures have been put in place to safeguard public health, including increased opportunities for early voting, fever checks and mass disinfecting of poll booths.

Beyond a lesson in logistics, today’s vote may indicate how a government’s response to COVID-19 affects electoral outcomes. After successfully containing a major outbreak and dramatically reducing transmissions, President Moon Jae-in’s approval rating has surged from 41% in January to 56%, and his Democratic Party of Korea is expected to maintain or even gain seats from today’s election.

The poll will likely prove to be a referendum on Moon’s management of the COVID-19 outbreak. Maintaining or gaining seats in the National Assembly will renew his mandate to enact progressive economic policies like continued hikes to the minimum wage and increased public spending, as well as his pursuit of détente with North Korea. As elections in other countries are held in the coming months, the government response to COVID-19 is likely to inform voter choices in a similar fashion.

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