Mon, Apr 12, 2004 - Page 5 News List

S Korea's Uri Party says polls suggest its lead has slipped

REUTERS , SEOUL

The South Korean pro-government Uri Party's commanding lead in opinion polls has dissipated and it is tied in a close race with the opposition with five days to go for the parliamentary election, its chairman said yesterday.

But Park Geun-hye, head of the rival Grand National Party, said she had no confirmation that her party was making up losses.

"The expectations that we would get a majority were imagination and a bubble," Uri Party chairman Chung Dong-young Chung told a news conference.

Opinion polls are banned in the two-week race, but Chung said latest projections showed his party and the Grand National Party would each capture 110 seats in the 299-seat National Assembly, for which elections will be held on Thursday.

Asked about reports of a Grand National Party rebound after predictions of an Uri Party landslide, Park told a news conference: "Nothing has been confirmed, so the only thing we can do is be contrite and do our best to be reborn as a clean party."

The Grand National Party dominated the outgoing parliament, which impeached President Roh Moo-hyun on March 12 and triggered a groundswell of sympathy that lifted the Uri Party in opinion polls.

Also backfiring for Park's party was an attack on fundraising violations by Roh aides that sparked a probe in which the Grand National Party was found to have taken far more illegal cash.

Chung made clear he wanted to keep the impeachment in focus in a race in which mainstream parties have offered similar pledges to boost the economy to create jobs, to reform politics and to resolve a nuclear dispute with North Korea peacefully.

"We are facing a desperate situation," he said. "We cannot allow the force that impeached the president to return, to pull down the president again."

Roh's fate is in the hands of the Constitutional Court, a nine-member panel which has 180 days to rule on the impeachment.

At its third hearing on Friday, it decided to call three Roh aides as witnesses. Local media said their testimony would delay a verdict until at least late May.

Political analysts say an Uri landslide would be read as a vote of confidence in Roh, who was impeached just one year into his fixed five-year term. Some local media predict a resounding endorsement of Roh would influence the impeachment trial.

Chung also said the Grand National Party, would "kill history twice" if it retained its majority. Without an Uri majority, "ministers will be fired and not a single reform bill will be passed", he said.

Park said on Thursday her party's goal was to get at least 100 seats, to deny the Uri Party the two-thirds of assembly seats needed to amend the constitution and impose radical change on Asia's fourth largest economy.

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