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South Korean Opposition Heads for Victory in Local Elections


Exit polls in South Korea show the main conservative opposition has crushed South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun's Uri Party in nationwide local elections. The vote is being seen as a key indicator for next year's presidential vote.

True to most predictions, South Korea's conservative Grand National Party is headed for a resounding electoral victory.

Voters spent Wednesday casting ballots in dozens of regional elections for governors, mayors, and district councils. Polls had been closed for just seconds when South Korean broadcasters began to project one decisive Grand National Party victory after another.

The opposition party won at least 11 out of 16 of the most closely watched races - including the influential mayoral posts in Seoul and Busan, South Korea's two largest cities.

By evening, the Uri Party of South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun had won only one race.

These elections are widely seen as a barometer of overall national political sentiment.

Political science professor, Kim Hyung-joon, of Seoul's Kookmin University, says voters expressed their disillusionment with President Roh and his party's handling of domestic economic issues. He says voters appear even more estranged from the current administration than he would have predicted.

Another political analyst, Professor Kang Won-taek of Soongsil University in Seoul, says a recent knife attack against Grand National Party Chairwoman Park Geun-hye also helped fuel the party's victory. He says feelings of outrage and sympathy for Park - whose face was slashed by knife wielding attacker last week - helped forge unity in the Grand National Party membership and bring voters out to the polls.

Park Geun-hye - daughter of former president, Park Chung-hee - is widely considered to be a leading candidate for the South Korean presidency in national elections next year.

A presidential victory by the Grand National Party could mean a fundamental shift in South Korean policies - including a less conciliatory political line on dealing with communist North Korea.

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