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South Korean Conservatives Win Victory in Legislative Vote

It appears South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has more legislative muscle with which to carry out his ambitious economic reforms. Candidates from Mr. Lee's party appear to have captured a majority of legislative seats in nationwide voting. But political feuding prevented the kind of decisive sweep the party had recently hoped for. VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.

South Korea's Grand National Party - the conservative faction that backs the country's president, Lee Myung-bak, looked set for a parliamentary takeover as results poured in from a nationwide vote.

Exit polls taken by South Korea's largest broadcast networks predicted the Grand National Party would win at least 155 of the 299 seats in the legislature, and could take as many as 178.

Officials at Grand National Party headquarters in Seoul broke out in cheers at seeing the results, and chanted the name of party chairman Kang Jae-sup.

Kang says the victory is a mandate for President Lee's economic policies.

He says this majority will give Mr. Lee the legislative strength he needs to revive the economy.

The main liberal faction, the United New Democratic Party, was predicted to suffer a resounding defeat with its legislative seats cut nearly in half to about 75 or fewer. The election is viewed as the most significant legislative defeat for progressive South Korean politicians in 20 years.

United New Democrat Chairman Sohn Hak-kyu showed humility in his consolation speech.

He offers thanks to all of the candidates who did their best against the odds, and to the voters who gave their support.

Most observers expected conservatives to make gains since Lee Myung-bak resoundingly defeated liberal opponents in last year's presidential election. But Mr. Lee has been criticized for alienating many members of his own party since he was inaugurated in February. As a result, many conservative broke away from the party and ran as independents, significantly diluting the legislature election victory.

But the results are widely seen as a vote of confidence in President Lee's agenda of ambitious economic reforms, including large-scale privatization and deregulation. President Lee may also have an easier time with his policies toward North Korea, which are much firmer than those of his liberal predecessors.

It remains to be seen whether Mr. Lee's most controversial project - plans to dig a massive canal to link major South Korean cities by water - will also benefit.