Exit polls from South Korea's local elections showed a close race Wednesday between the conservative party of President Park Geun-hye and opposition candidates.
The elections were seen as a key test for President Park, whose popularity has declined sharply because of public outrage over her response to a deadly ferry disaster.
The exit polling data suggests the ruling Saenuri Party and the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy would each take five key mayoral and provincial races. Another seven were too close to call.
Ms. Park has repeatedly apologized for the April 16 sinking of the Sewol ferry, which killed 300 people, mostly high school students, and prompted an outpouring of public anger.
But many voters are still upset at what they see as lax safety standards that led to the disaster, as well as an inadequate rescue attempt. One voter, 26-year-old Ahn Jin-Yojunung, said the accident influenced her decision at the ballot box.
"Because of the recent incident, I think safety is more important than the economy," Ahn said. "I hope my opinion will be reflected (in the election results)."
Another voter, 70-year-old Hwan Ok-hee, said she is confident Park's promised reforms in response to the disaster will be successful.
"I support the government and I think they will continue to develop through this incident. I trust them," said Hwan.
Opinion polls suggested the ruling conservative Saenuri Party would avoid a major defeat, although the New Politics Alliance for Democracy could make up some ground.
Nearly 4,000 regional positions are being contested in the election, which is the first nationwide vote since Ms. Park took power last year. Results are expected by late Wednesday.