Yoon Suk-yeol got a boost on Thursday when a fellow conservative dropped out and threw his support behind Yoon, in a move that could tip the balance of the closely fought election away from the ruling liberals. Moon’s ruling party is represented by Lee Jae-myung.
The race has focussed on seeking a leader to clean up polarised politics and corruption, and tackle the runaway housing prices and deepening inequality that have dogged Asia’s fourth-largest economy.
Yoon has encouraged people with COVID-19 or isolating to vote, saying they could amount to millions out of more than 40 million eligible voters.
Yoon and his rival Lee, as well as President Moon all cast their votes on Friday morning.
While the pandemic did not prevent big campaign rallies, leading presidential runners have run “contact-free” campaigns. Lee met supporters at a drive-in movie theatre.
Yoon’s main opposition party launched a phone app that allows voters to watch campaign rallies where its candidate is a featured speaker.
South Korea held a national election in 2020 and regional polls last year, with infected people required to mail in their ballots or use special polling stations at hospitals. Daily COVID-19 infections were in the hundreds at most at that time. This week they topped 200,000.
But while case numbers have surged, South Korea has rolled back some restrictions in recent days and suspended the use of a digital-tracking scheme credited with the early success in containing the virus.
“The situation has changed a lot since the last general election, with far more cases,” said a disease control agency official. “And their political rights have to be protected.”