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S. Koreans go to the polls in parliamentary by-elections

All Headlines 06:00 October 28, 2009

SEOUL, Oct. 28 (Yonhap) -- Voters in five constituencies around the nation headed to the polls Wednesday for parliamentary by-elections that could affect the political fate of President Lee Myung-bak and the ruling Grand National Party (GNP) during the remaining half of his five-year term.

Only five seats of the National Assembly are up for grabs, but the by-elections have been likened to a "mini general election" as the five are widely spread across the nation, including two satellite cities of Seoul.

The voting began at 6 a.m. and will continue until 8 p.m., officials at the National Election Commission said, forecasting preliminary results will begin to be available from around 10 p.m. at the earliest.

The five Assembly seats were previously held by four GNP lawmakers and a legislator from the main opposition Democratic Party, all of whom have been forced to vacate their seats after being convicted of election law violations.

The GNP is already in a comfortable position with 167 seats in the 299-seat parliament, but a defeat in Wednesday's election could still cause problems for the party and potentially bring the demise of its two-month-old leadership.

The elections, being held in the second year of the Lee administration, could be considered a vote of confidence for the president and his ruling party, depending on the public backing for the opposition.

The ruling party says it aims to win at least three of the five seats. No ruling party, including the now opposition Democratic Party, has been able to grab seats in recent Assembly by-elections.

Still, the party will have to take at least one of the two Assembly seats available in Seoul's satellite cities of Suwon and Ansan to claim victory as elections in Seoul and its surrounding areas are often considered a barometer of public support because of their relatively neutral political affiliation.

The main opposition party, too, acknowledges its taking of at least one of the two seats in the capital area will mean victory and growing public support for the opposition.

The party is also hoping to grab at least three seats in the by-elections.

"People must lash out a sharp whip and stop the Lee Myung-bak government's self-centered and one-sided rule," the chief of the Democratic Party, Rep, Chung Sye-kyun, said Tuesday, urging voters to cast their ballots not only for his party but also in opposition to the ruling party.

GNP chief Rep. Chung Mong-joon urged the people to punish the opposition party for its negative election campaign.

"We tried to make a promise to the people throughout our campaign for this election. And that is, we will focus all our efforts on reviving the economy; something that will be felt and enjoyed by everyone in this country, and that we will keep our promise to the voters," he said Tuesday.

bdk@yna.co.kr
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