S Korea opposition wins surprise victory in parliamentary elections

South Korea`s main opposition party won a surprise victory in Wednesday`s general election, ending the the conservative ruling party`s 16-year parliamentary majority. 

Seoul: South Korea`s main opposition party won a surprise victory in Wednesday`s general election, ending the the conservative ruling party`s 16-year parliamentary majority. 

The vote, clouded by North Korean nuclear threats and a slowing economy, dealt a blow to President Park Geun-Hye and raised hopes for an opposition victory in the 2017 presidential election.

With almost all ballots counted, Park`s Saenuri Party won 122 seats in the 300-member National Assembly, while the main opposition Minjoo Party won 123, the most of any party.

The splinter opposition People`s Party bagged 38 spots, and another six seats went to a small opposition party, the Justice Party. 

"The Saenuri Party humbly accepts the election results and voters` choice," party spokesman Ahn Hyung-Hwan told journalists.

"The people are deeply disappointed with us, but we`ve failed to read their mind," he added. 

It marked the first time since 1999 the conservative party has lost control of parliament, with the three opposition parties garnering a combined 167 seats, well over the majority.

Voter turnout was 58 percent, up 3.8 percentage points from the 2012 election, and final official results were expected Thursday morning.
"This is a voters` judgement against President Park. Many voters are fed up with her authoritarian style of administration", Professor Yang Moo-Jin of the University of North Korean Studies told AFP.

Park has also fallen short on most of her key economic promises, a failure she puts down to legislative inaction.

But critics accuse her of skewed priorities, poor decision-making and a dogmatic style of leadership.

"People punished Park for her poor performance in economy," Minjoo Party President Kim Chong-In said. 

Political power in South Korea is firmly concentrated in the presidency, with incumbents limited to a single five-year term. 

Dissatisfaction is especially high among young people, with the jobless rate among those aged 15-29 at record levels.

The left-wing opposition sought to frame Wednesday`s vote as a referendum on Park`s economic policies. But it has suffered from factional infighting and breakaways that threaten to split the liberal vote.

Kate Kim, an unemployed 25-year-old college graduate, said crippling levels of joblessness had persuaded her and many of her previously apathetic friends to vote. 

"This is the first time I have voted... our country desperately needs change, especially for young and jobless people like me," Kim said.Analysts had earlier predicted a majority for Saenuri, saying its prospects would be boosted by surging military tensions on the divided peninsula.

The North conducted its fourth nuclear test in January, followed a month later by a long-range rocket launch that was widely seen as a disguised ballistic missile test.

Tensions are also high over an ongoing major US-South Korean military exercise, which the North sees as a rehearsal for invasion. 
Seoul businessman Chung Hae-Young said he voted for Saenuri because of its hardline stance towards Pyongyang. 

"I like how the party handled the North, although it honestly hasn`t done a good job with the economy," said the 60-year-old.
But the conservatives have also suffered from internal bickering, particularly over the process for nominating candidates, which led to a number of defections by MPs now running as independents.

The outcome of Wednesday`s vote could have a significant impact on Park, who has less than two years left of her term.
Under her presidency, annual economic growth in Asia`s fourth largest economy has averaged around 2.9 percent compared to 3.2 percent under her predecessor Lee Myung-Bak.

Exports, which account for more than half of GDP, have fallen for the past 14 months consecutively, while household debt has soared to a record $1.0 trillion.

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