By: Do Je-hae

Voting took place in more than 300 polling stations for National Assembly by-elections, Wednesday, a day after President Park Geun-hye blamed the opposition camp for a high-profile graft scandal through her aide at a press conference.

As of 4:00 p.m., the overall voter turnout reached 28.1 percent, according to the National Election Commission (NEC). This is 2.1 percent higher than last year’s by-elections.

Voters in Gwangju, a persistent stronghold for the liberal camp, were most enthusiastic about the vote, topping the turnout at 30 percent as of 3:00 p.m.

Voter turnout for past by-elections has been in the 30 percent range.

Four lawmakers — one each in Seoul, Incheon, Seongnam and Gwangju — were elected at a time of waning support for the government amid an unprecedented corruption scandal involving Park’s closest aides and senior officials.

The vote is considered a crucial test for party leaders ahead of the general election in May 2016.

The four constituencies are Gwanak-B in Seoul; Jungwon in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province; Seogu-B in Gwangju; and Seogu/Ganghwa-B in Incheon.

Independent and party candidates called for “get-out-the-vote” efforts rather than going for individual campaigning after the 13-day canvassing period ended at the stroke of midnight.

“Each vote will play a huge role in reviving the regional economy and state affairs,” said ruling Saenuri Party Chairman Kim Moo-sung during a meeting with senior party leaders. “People in the districts that are holding the by-elections today are filled with aspirations for their region’s development. Our candidates have the capacity to respond to these aspirations”

The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) Chairman Moon Jae-in called on voters to exercise their right and show their sentiment toward the Park administration.

For the NPAD, retaining its strongholds in Gwangju and Gwanak B is crucial.

The NPAD’s former senior advisor Chung Dong-young is running in Seoul’s Gwanak-B district under the Union of the People umbrella. Chung’s resurgence could bring changes to the opposition camp and undermine Moon’s leadership.

Incheon and Seongnam have been strongholds for conservative parties.

Turnout during the two-day early voting, held last week, stood at 7.6 percent.

SOURCE: THE KOREA TIMES