(dpa) - South Koreans went to the polls Wednesday to elect a new National Assembly with opinion polls showing the conservative Grand National Party (GNP) poised to replace the liberal United Democratic Party (UDP) as the legislature's largest faction.
President Lee Myung Bak of the GNP - who himself won election in December, ending 10 years of UDP domination of the East Asian country- called on South Koreans to exercise their right to vote.
Voter turnout, however, was down substantially in the first five hours of voting. The National Election Commission said 19.2 per cent of eligible voters had turned out, compared with 25.2 per cent at the same point in the voting in the previous election four years ago.
Polling firms and election officials forecast a record low turnout to choose the Assembly's 299 members because of political apathy. Of the 37.8 voters eligible to cast ballots, about half were expected to do so.
To encourage people to turn out at the polling stations, voters were expected to receive vouchers for reduced entry prices for museums and public buildings.
Predictions that the GNP might be able to achieve a two-thirds majority in the Assembly have faded after an internal squabble over candidate nominations tarnished the party's image.
The GNP was expected to win 160 seats against 100 for the UDP.
The first election results were expected late Wednesday.
The GNP called on voters to elect a "stable" government, while the UDP said they should keep the government in check.
Recent tensions with North Korea are expected to have little impact on the election.
Pyongyang has recently threatened to cut off dialogue with Seoul after the new government in South Korea adopted a tougher stance with its communist neighbour.