South Korea’s ruling conservatives have won a parliamentary poll fought mostly on economic issues, with analysts saying voters opted for stability ahead of a presidential election in December.
Official results released in the early hours of yesterday showed the New Frontier Party (NFP) had won 152 seats in the 300-seat National Assembly, 25 more than the center-left opposition Democratic United Party (DUP).
The DUP had been tipped to score an easy victory in earlier opinion polls, but apparently threw away support by attacking an already-ratified free trade deal with the US and the construction of a new naval base.
“South Koreans voted for stability,” said Hahm Sung-deuk, professor of political science at the Korea University in Seoul.
“Conservatives pulled together strongly in backing the NFP while the opposition appeared to be rudderless,” he said.
The ruling party, which had 165 seats in the outgoing parliament against 89 for the DUP, initially looked like it would struggle in its bid for re-election ahead of a campaign for a second successive presidential victory in December.
“People made wise choices,” South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said in a statement.
“The government will do its best to manage state affairs in a stable manner and take care of the people’s livelihood,” said Lee, who cannot stand for a second term in December due to constitutional term limits.
DUP’s top campaigner, Park Sun-sook, said the party had failed to live up to voters’ expectations.
“The DUP failed to turn public calls for punishing the ... ruling party into reality. We apologize for disappointing voters,” she said. “We will sincerely think over what today’s election means and try ceaselessly to be reborn as a party the people can lean and rely on.”
Political Science professor Lee Jun-han at Incheon University said the NFP had successfully campaigned on its slogan of “development amid stability.”
“But it remains to be seen whether the NFP will win the presidential poll as well,” he said, noting it fell behind the DUP in key districts.
The leftist opposition Unified Progressive Party took 13 seats while five went to the right-wing Liberty Forward Party.
The result is expected to bolster the position of NFP leader Park Geun-hye, a presidential hopeful. She has tried to rebuild the party since taking over in December last year.
The ruling party ditched its old name of the Grand National Party and moved to the left to try to shake off its image as a party for the rich. It pledged to improve state welfare programs.
“We have let you down so many times for the past four years, and I believe you have given us one last chance through this election,” Park said in a speech aired live on TV yesterday.
“We will focus all our energy in improving people’s livelihood ... We will never waste our time on matters unrelated to people’s everyday lives. We will never let you down with factional rifts and political wrangling,” she said.
Turnout was 54.3 percent compared to 46.1 percent four years ago.
With economic concerns sidelining worries over North Korea, DUP tried to exploit discontent over rising prices, high education and housing costs, job difficulties, a widening income gap and a weak welfare system.
The ruling party succeeded in depicting its opponents as socially divisive and bent on undermining a decades-old security alliance with the US, particularly through their vow to renegotiate the US free-trade pact.