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(LEAD) Main opposition takes 3 of 5 seats in Assembly by-elections

All Headlines 00:48 October 29, 2009

(ATTN: UPDATES with reaction from the presidential office, additional information in paras 7, 14-15)
By Byun Duk-kun

SEOUL, Oct. 29 (Yonhap) -- The main opposition Democratic Party (DP) won a small but meaningful victory in Wednesday's parliamentary by-elections, taking three of the five contested seats, including two in the Seoul metropolitan area.

The DP's victory in the Suwon and Ansan districts, south of Seoul, are viewed as especially meaningful as they are often considered a barometer of public sentiment because of their relatively neutral political affiliation.

The ruling Grand National Party (GNP) took the remaining two seats, including one in Gangwon Province, where the main opposition party did not field any candidate. Its only genuine victory came in its traditional power base, South Gyeongsang Province, where its former leader, Park Hee-tae, narrowly defeated a DP candidate to reclaim the seat vacated by a former GNP lawmaker.

The outcome of Wednesday's by-elections put the DP in a comfortable position as the political parties were set to begin preparations for local elections slated for June.

"In today's by-elections, we secured the bridgehead for a victory in next year's local elections," DP chief Rep. Chung Sye-kyun said while declaring victory in Wednesday's polls.

He then urged the president and the ruling party to change the basis of their governing ideas, claiming the outcome of the Assembly by-elections represents the people's wish for a change, if not their dissatisfaction with the government.

Throughout the party's official 13-day campaign, Chung appealed to the people to send a clear message of their disapproval of what he called the Lee Myung-bak administration's "self-centered and one-sided rule."

The GNP's only consolation came from the fact that no ruling party, including the now opposition Democratic Party, has been able to win any seat in recent parliamentary by-elections.

"I believe the GNP did well in that it ended the ruling party's losing streak in by-elections," GNP's top strategy and planning official, Rep. Chun Yu-ok, said.

Others acknowledged the GNP's defeat.

"Victories in the Gyeongsang and Gangwon provinces, where public support for the party has traditionally been strong, cannot be called a victory. The most important seats were those in the capital area, and our failure to win either of the two here, in fact, means a defeat," a GNP lawmaker said, asking not to be identified.

GNP chief Rep. Chung Mong-joon, too, noted the apparent defeat, saying the voters have given the party both "a stick and a carrot."

"The party will try to be more humble and work harder, taking the people's wish as its command from the heaven," he told reporters.

Cheong Wa Dae, the presidential office, appeared less willing to call it a complete loss, which would put strains on the president.

"I believe it is an outcome that holds the people's encouragement for our efforts to revive the economy, as well as their wish for us to work harder," Park Hyung-joon, top secretary to the president for political affairs, told Yonhap News Agency.

With the two additional seats from the by-elections, the GNP now controls 169 seats in the 299-seat unicameral parliament. The DP now has 86 seats.

Wednesday's by-elections ended one of the most heated campaigns in recent years, as the outcome is seen as a barometer of public opinion on President Lee Myung-bak, who begins the third year of his single five-year term next year.

Such a heated campaign apparently helped garner a higher-than-expected voter turnout. Initial tallies by the National Election Commission showed 39 percent or some 337,000 out of 864,860 eligible voters cast ballots.


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