South Koreans voted yesterday in closely contested legislative elections, a key test of sentiment before December’s presidential vote, with economic concerns sidelining worries over North Korea.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s ruling conservative New Frontier Party (NFP) is struggling to preserve its parliamentary majority to pave the way for a second successive presidential victory in eight months’ time.
The main opposition center-left Democratic United Party (DUP) is seeking to exploit discontent over rising prices, high education and housing costs, job difficulties, a widening income gap and a weak welfare system.
Opinion polls were banned in the week before the vote, but experts expect both parties to win 130 to 135 seats in the 300-member National Assembly.
The NFP had 165 seats in the outgoing parliament against 89 for the DUP.
“Vote for our party and choose stability and security over instability and insecurity,” the ruling party said in a statement yesterday.
It depicts its opponents as socially divisive and bent on undermining a decades-old security alliance with the US, particularly through their vow to renegotiate a recently ratified free-trade deal with the US.
The DUP called on voters to pass judgement on Lee’s administration.
“Democracy has retreated, people’s livelihood suffered and inter-Korean ties have broken down during the four years of the Lee government,” it said in a statement.
The ruling party ditched its old name of the Grand National Party ahead of the election and moved to the left to try to try to shake off its image as a party for the rich. It pledges to improve state welfare programs.
North Korea’s impending rocket launch is the main focus of international attention, but has barely figured in the election campaign in the South, which is used to tension with its communist neighbor.
The election is a test for presidential hopefuls, particularly as it will be the first time for two decades that the presidential and parliamentary elections fall in the same year.
These include NFP leader Park Geun-hye and her potential opposition rival Moon Jae-in. Lee cannot constitutionally stand for a second term.