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In South Korean Town, Voters Anticipate High Stakes Presidential Election


South Koreans will choose their new president tomorrow to replace their former leader who is on trial for corruption. Voters are worried about that scandal, about the economy and also about their nuclear-armed neighbor to the north. NPR's Lauren Frayer traveled outside of the capital, Seoul, to talk to voters in a bedroom community that is famous for choosing the winning candidate every election year.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: An hour subway ride outside Seoul lies Incheon, a city of high-rise apartment blocks and nearly 3 million people, famous for its airport, South Korea's largest.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking Korean).

FRAYER: In the past three presidential elections, Incheon has voted almost exactly in line with the country as a whole. As Incheon goes, so goes the nation.

PARK HYUNG-SHIK: (Speaking Korean).

FRAYER: "People have moved on from all over Korea to be next to the capital," says Park Hyung-shik at the local election commission, "we're a microcosm of the whole nation." What Incheon cares about, the nation cares about.

LEE AH-REUM: (Speaking Korean).

FRAYER: "Welfare, education, the economy - those are my issues," says stay-at-home mom Lee Ah-reum taking her infant and toddler to preschool. This is an affordable community where people come to raise kids, but like the rest of South Korea, Incheon's economic boom has mellowed. Youth unemployment is near a record high, so is air pollution.

The presidential front-runner, Moon Jae-in, promises 80,000 new public sector jobs nationwide and dialogue with North Korea. His closest contender, a software tycoon, promises job training for 20-somethings and a harder line against Pyongyang.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Korean).

FRAYER: Vendors yell prices for vegetables in Incheon's outdoor market, but I'm here to see a fortune teller. They're quite common in Korea.


FRAYER: Upstairs from the market, an 84-year-old soothsayer, Park Sun-jae, pores over the lunar birthdays of the presidential candidates.

PARK SUN-JAE: (Speaking Korean).

FRAYER: He says the front-runner, Moon Jae-in, looks pretty good. He's at his highest peak of fortune. The spirits are aligned, he says. The latest polls did give him a 20-point lead. Lauren Frayer, NPR News, Incheon, South Korea. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.