Tens of millions of South Koreans began 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 a.m. at 13,964 polling stations throughout the country, the National Election Commission (NEC) said. As of 9 a.m., voter turnout reached 9.4 percent.
Voting was set to end at 8 p.m. instead of the 6 p.m. deadline in previous presidential elections.
The two-hour extension came as the election marked a rare presidential by-election caused by the March 10 ouster of former President Park Geun-hye by a Constitutional Court ruling over a massive corruption scandal that has also led to her arrest and indictment.
Speaking to reporters after casting his ballot in northeastern Seoul, Ahn Cheol-soo, the presidential candidate of the center-left People's Party, said he expects the nation to make a wise choice.
"It was a very short election period, but I did my best to explain my vision, policy and values," he said.
Rep. Sim Sang-jeung, the candidate of the progressive Justice Party, cast her vote at a polling station in her electoral district in Goyang, northwest of Seoul.
"I trust that (the people) will vote for Sim Sang-jeung to achieve stronger reform and greater change," she said.
Unlike in 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.
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.
The election had been considered tilted in favor of liberal candidates from the very onset as it followed the removal of the former conservative president over corruption allegations.
Hong, the candidate from the former ruling party, however, was seen catching up with his liberal rivals at the last minute.
The last opinion poll on the election published Wednesday had Hong and Ahn tied at 18.6 percent in second place, while Moon led the race with 42.4 percent. The publication of new opinion polls has been prohibited to prevent the outcome of an opinion poll itself affecting the outcome of an election.
A total of over 42.4 million people, or 82 percent 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.
Over 26 percent, or some 11 million, have already cast their ballots over a two-day early voting period held last week. The turnout marked the highest rate ever in early voting, apparently indicating high public interest in the election that followed the first impeachment of a president. (Yonhap)