SEOUL, May 30 (Yonhap) -- Early voting for the June 4 local elections kicked off Friday for a two-day run amid lingering uncertainties about voter sentiment in the wake of last month's deadly ferry sinking.
The nationwide elections for 17 new provincial governors and mayors, as well as education superintendents and local council members, are seen as a referendum on President Park Geun-hye's conservative administration.
Park, who took office in February 2013, has seen her approval ratings drop below 50 percent for the first time in more than a year amid public anger over the government's poor response to the Sewol ferry disaster.
The sinking off the country's southwest coast on April 16 left more than 300 people dead or missing, most of them high school students on a field trip to the southern resort island of Jeju.
Early voting began at 3,506 polling stations across the nation at 6 a.m. Voting will take place between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday.
It is the first time the early voting system has been applied nationwide.
Total voter turnout is expected to depend largely on two factors -- turnout during the early voting period and public interest in the elections following the Sewol tragedy.
Election officials have voiced hope that the turnout will be higher this year than during the previous local elections in 2010 due to the extended voting period.
Others, however, have raised the possibility that voters may ignore the elections altogether due to disillusionment with politics caused by the ferry disaster.
Amid the uncertainties, the ruling Saenuri Party has campaigned on a pledge to fix the social abnormalities that were revealed through the ferry sinking.
The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), meanwhile, has called for judgment on the incumbent administration, which it claims has failed the people.
In South Korea, the results of public opinion surveys conducted less than a week before election day cannot be announced or published in the press due to concerns they may unfairly sway the elections results.
According to opinion polls published Thursday, the ruling and opposition parties were neck and neck in most regions, with the opposition party leading its rival by a small margin in key battlegrounds.
In the race for the Seoul mayorship, however, NPAD candidate Park Won-soon led his ruling party rival Chung Mong-joon by at least 10 percentage points.
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