Upset win for Saenuri Party in South Korea

With just over half of the ballots counted, Korean news sources are projecting that the governing Saenuri Party (새누리당 or the ‘Saenuri-dang’) will win, however slightly, more seats than the opposition in South Korea’s April 11 parliamentary elections.

The Saenuri Party is forecast to win about 144 seats in the South Korea national assembly — it currently holds 165 under current leader and likely future presidential candidate Park Geun-hye, daughter of the former ROK leader.

The victory is also good news — or at least a reprieve — for embattled president Lee Myung-bak, whose one-time popularity has plummeted due to the stagnant economy, high unemployment and scandals over illegal internal surveillance.  Analysts, however, cautioned a rough road ahead for Lee, who will be a convenient punching bag ahead of December’s presidential election.

Prior to today’s election, the Democratic United Party (민주통합당, or the ‘Minju Tonghap-dang’) faced skepticism over the troubles it had in formalizing an alliance with the Unified Progressive Party, but looked to have an odds-on even chance at worst of winning the election.

Although the DUP will add seats to the 80 seats it held prior to the election, its inability to win outright will be seen as somewhat of a disappointment on expectations, given the current president’s unpopularity — so much so that the Saenuri Party only earlier this year, under Park’s leadership, rebranded itself from is previous “Grand National Party” moniker.

As of 11:30 pm South Korean time, the Saenuri Party had won or was leading in 127 out of a total of 246 constituencies with the DUP carrying 107, according to the National Election Commission. The United Progress Party (UPP), the DUP’s ally, had won or was leading in six.

Park will now almost certainly be the Saenuri presidential candidate in the December election (although Gyeonggi Province Governor Kim Moon-soo remains a potential alternative).  Although the DUP’s potential candidate is less clear following the result, the leading contender remains former Roh administration chief of staff Moon Jae-in, who won election today in a district in Busan.  In addition, IT entrepreneur and Seoul National University professor Ahn Chul-soo has also been seen as a popular potential independent candidate.

The Korea Times highlights some of the winners and losers in individual races — the losers include a former Saenuri Party leader, Hong Joon-pyo.  Among the highlights are more representation among the so-called ‘486 generation’ — those who were born in the 1960s and were student activists in the fight for democracy in the 1980s (the ‘4’ notes that they are in their 40s — the original term was ‘386’ generation when coined in the 1980s).

Also among the new National Assembly members will be Cho Myung-chul, the first North Korean defector to be elected in South Korea (Cho was listed fourth on Saenuri’s list of proportional representation candidates).

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