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South Korea's Uri Party Celebrates Resounding Election Victory - 2004-04-16

South Korea's Uri Party is celebrating a resounding win in Thursday's legislative elections. The victory signifies a basic shift in South Korean politics to the left. But major questions remain about what the new Uri-dominated National Assembly will do in terms of policy.

For the pro-reform Uri party, it is literally an overnight transformation. The party left the last National Assembly with just 49 seats. It will enter the new one with 152 seats.

The vote is widely seen as a stinging rebuke to the conservative Grand National Party, GNP, which led the drive to impeach President Roh Moo-hyun last month.

President Roh, who was suspended from office for violating an election law, is awaiting a court ruling on whether he will be allowed to return to his job. Despite its weak showing in the election, GNP leaders say they will push ahead with the impeachment process.

One young South Korean voter says many young people voted for the Uri Party, which backs President Roh, because they viewed the impeachment as arrogance by the GNP.

?It was building up all year. They were seeing things, and they were getting fed up. And I think the impeachment was the final thing that blew the lid off,? she said.

President Roh's impeachment is widely expected to be rejected by South Korea's constitutional court. Uri lawmaker Yoo Jay-gun says Mr. Roh will be a full-fledged member of the party in short order.

?I think President Roh will join the party right after this impeachment period will be over,? Mr. Yoo said.

If that happens, South Korea will be led for the first time in its history by a liberal, progressive president who enjoys a legislative majority.

Uri party leaders are not saying how that will translate into policy at this early stage, but they say they are serious about cleaning up government corruption.

It is not clear how the Uri majority will affect foreign policy, if at all. Uri leaders say they will maintain the status quo on key issues.

Acting President Goh Kun assured U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney Friday South Korea will proceed plans to send three thousand troops to Iraq. But Scott Snyder, of the Asia Foundation, says a new mandate may give Uri an opportunity to think again.

?The new national assembly may want to have a further debate about Korea's troop dispatch and may possibly want to give new consideration to that, Mr. Snyder said.

Mr. Yoo of the Uri party disagrees. He says South Korea's commitment to the United States transcends political changes.

Pro-American and anti-American positively have no meaning in this day,? he said. ?More important is how to work together with American foreign policy and Korean foreign policy.?

Uri leaders also say they will not deviate from allied policy on North Korea, including the insistence that Pyongyang dismantle its nuclear programs. Analysts do say, however, an Uri government is more likely to engage North Korea on economic matters than the party's conservative rivals.