March 27, 2020 12:33
Many Korean expats will not be able to cast their ballots ahead of the general election slated for April 15 as coronavirus lockdowns across the globe keep them away from consular polling booths.
The National Election Commission on Thursday said that it decided to suspend preparations for overseas voting at 23 diplomatic missions in 17 coronavirus-ravaged countries until April 6. They include France, Germany, Italy, the Philippines, Spain and the U.K.
"These countries have gone into either complete or partial lockdown, restricting public movement, and violators could face a fine or jail time," the commission said. "In the current circumstances we cannot guarantee the safety of our expats who have to travel to cast their ballots."
Overseas Koreans were supposed to vote from April 1 until 6. But that means some 18,392 Koreans who have already registered for overseas voting will be deprived of the franchise. Those who arrive in Korea before April 1 will be able to vote here on election day.
"We take this unprecedented situation that limits people's constitutional voting rights very seriously," the commission added. "We will do our utmost to protect their rights."
It said it has not yet considered the threat of lawsuits challenging the election's legitimacy, or of more expats being unable to vote due to the worsening pandemic. That raises fears that the election could be postponed in case the suspension of overseas voting expands to countries with a large number of Korean expats like Japan and the U.S.
The commission said it will step up quarantine measures at polling stations abroad, enforce at least 1 m distance between voters and provide hand sanitizer and other disinfectants.
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