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Conservatives win majority in S Korea election: exit polls PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 10 April 2008

AFP, SEOUL - The conservative party of South Korea's new president won an overall majority in Wednesday's parliamentary election, according to TV exit polls, giving him the power to push through sweeping economic reforms.

The polls by four TV stations gave differing figures. But the lowest prediction for Lee Myung-Bak's Grand National Party (GNP) was 154 seats in the 299-member single-chamber National Assembly, and the highest was 184.

They gave 67-93 seats to the liberal United Democratic Party (UDP), which is currently the largest in parliament. The official result was due around midnight (1500 GMT).

"I think the voters gave the Grand National Party a mandate to change our country greatly," said its leader Kang Jae-Sup. Lee, a former business executive campaigning on an "Economy, First!" platform, won by a landslide over his liberal opponent in last December's presidential poll.

His GNP wanted a legislative majority to enact business-friendly reforms such as deregulation and tax cuts to reinvigorate Asia's fourth largest economy, after a decade of relatively modest growth under liberal presidents. Lee and his party also pledged to get tougher with communist North Korea following a 10-year "sunshine" engagement policy -- a promise which has enraged Pyongyang.

On Wednesday Pyongyang's official media, in its latest broadside against what it called Lee's "group of traitors," accused them of trying to fuel confrontation by raising the North's human rights record. Analysts say voters were expected largely to have shrugged off the angry rhetoric.

The UDP had effectively conceded defeat even before the election, saying its goal was to secure 100 seats to block any moves to change the constitution. Turnout was 46 percent of the 37.7 million-strong electorate, a record low for a general election. "I think the low turnout has created a crisis for democracy," said UDP chief Sohn Hak-Kyu.

"If the Grand National Party emerges as a gigantic ruling party as forecast, that will give us a great responsibility to keep it in check." Sungkyunkwan University political science professor Kim Il-Young said that despite the wide margin in exit polls, it was clear the GNP secured an overall majority. "Liberals appeared to have suffered a humiliating defeat," he said, adding they should blame their unappealing election platform rather than the turnout.

The National Election Commission, in an unprecedented move, had offered voters incentives -- discounted entry fees to museums, parks and cultural facilities -- to go to the polls. But Koreans appeared to be suffering election fatigue after the presidential poll. In addition, internal party feuds had delayed candidate selection and given them little time to appeal to the electorate. Lee urged people to turn out after himself voting in Seoul's Jongno district.

"The situation is not so favourable but I'll do my best in my job," he said in apparent reference to the global credit crisis, which has dented his hopes of achieving six percent growth this year. At a polling station in Seoul's Bangbae district, many voters were planning how to spend the public holiday declared for the elections.

"I came here early to cast my ballot and go out with my girlfriend to see the cherry blossoms," Kang Hyo-Shik, 33, told AFP. He said he voted for the GNP "so that the president may push through with a drive to reactivate the economy." A 65-year-old man who identified himself only as Lim said he hoped the GNP wins a majority.

"I think we have to give the new government a chance to deliver on its promise to resuscitate the economy. Under the past governments, egalitarianism and unionism were too strong."

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