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By Graham Earnshaw

SEOUL, Dec 15, Reuter – Many South Koreans believe that Wednesday’s presidential election will be rigged, and foreign observers and the opposition will be watching closely for signs of fraud during the voting and counting.

The military-backed government has assured voters that it will not interfere to help the ruling party’s candidate, but the election campaign has already been full of accusations of irregularities.

“There have been a lot of signs of election manipulation by the ruling party even during the campaign, so why not during the election itself?” said a 28-year-old restaurant owner.

The main candidates, former general Roh Tae-woo and opposition rivals Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung, are running such a close race that even a small amount of vote-rigging could make the difference, political analysts say.

“I don’t trust anyone, either the ruling party or the opposition,” said a waitress. “I have been watching the campaign, and I think fair voting and vote-counting is hard to expect.”

The opposition has accused the government of misusing funds and of pressuring civil servants and others to support Roh.

The government has responded with accusations that the opposition leaders are planning violence to disrupt the voting.

One area which the opposition complains is particularly open to manipulation is the absentee voting by the 600,000 members of the armed forces, who have already voted.

There have been reports that some commanding officers insisted on having troops fill in ballot papers in their presence.

“I think the absentee (military) ballots are very important in this election and I don’t think they were conducted fairly,” said a Seoul university student.

One western diplomat said the importance of the rigging question will be acute if the vote is as close as expected.

“I think some people are going to believe it is not fair no matter what happens,” the diplomat said.

A team of observers from the International Human Rights Law group of Washington, D.C. said the preliminary arrangements for the election appeared to be fair.

Opposition leader Kim Dae-jung has said that he might prosecute Roh for election fraud if elected, and said on Wednesday that Roh stood no chance of winning except in a rigged poll.

But the Seoul university student said: “Unless the manipulation and rigging are on a very big scale, I think we will have to accept the result.”


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