Seoul, – Tens of millions of South Koreans were casting their votes Tuesday to elect a candidate to lead the country for the next five years.

Voting in the country’s presidential election began at 6:00 am (local time) at 13,964 polling stations throughout the country, the National Election Commission (NEC) said.

The turnout so far marked the highest rate ever in early voting, apparently indicating high public interest in the election that followed the first impeachment of a president, according to state news agency (Yonhap).

The election comes in the wake of the March 10 ouster of former President Park Geun-hye over a massive corruption scandal that also led to her arrest and indictment.

Thirteen candidates are vying for the top elected office, but many believe the election is, in reality, a three-way race between Moon Jae-in of the liberal Democratic Party, Hong Joon-pyo of the conservative Liberty Korea Party and Ahn Cheol-soo of the center-left People’s Party.

Voting was set to end at 8:00 pm instead of the usual 6:00 pm because it was a by-election.

“There was high participation in overseas voting and early voting conducted in advance, and a voter survey by the commission shows that more people are eager to vote,” an NEC official told Yonhap. “We expect turnout to reach the 80% level”.

If the rate exceeds 80 percent, it would mark the first time since the presidential election in 1997 that participation has been so high.

Unlike the previous elections, the president-elect will be inaugurated immediately after an official declaration of his or her victory by the NEC in a meeting slated for early Wednesday.

A total of over 42.4 million people, or 82% of the country’s 51 million population, were eligible to vote in the presidential election, marking the largest number of voters in the country’s history. (QNA)

Source: Qatar News Agency