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Rival parties vie to win over voters as election race enters home stretch

All Headlines 16:16 April 11, 2016

SEOUL, April 11 (Yonhap) -- The ruling and opposition parties on Monday stepped up appeals for support on their home turfs as the parliamentary elections enter the home stretch, with many analysts and pollsters saying the race has increasingly become tight in many electorates.

The quadrennial election on Wednesday will pick 300 lawmakers for four-year terms, with 253 of them to be selected through direct elections and the remaining 47 proportional representation seats to be allocated to parties according to the numbers of votes they receive overall.

Kim Moo-sung, chairman of the ruling Saenuri Party, first traveled to the industrial city of Ulsan, 414 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on Monday to help bolster the chances of Saenuri party candidates there as opposition candidates fielded a single candidate.

The chairman then visited his own constituency in the southern port city of Busan where he is largely forecast to win for a sixth parliamentary term.

Kim is then scheduled to travel to the southern island of Jeju later in the day to drum up support as analysts are predicting very close races in some districts.

The ruling Saenuri Party had been forecast to win an easy victory in last week's polls, although it may lose some seats in its traditional strongholds to independents.

The surveys conducted by four local pollsters last week showed the Saenuri could grab between 150 to 175 seats in the 300-member unicameral National Assembly.

"The variable factor is independent candidates who defected from the Saenuri Party," said Huh Jae-in, chief of the local polling agency Gallup Korea. "It is virtually the Saenuri's victory if it claims more than 160 seats including those of defected independents."

The latest findings showed the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea will likely secure less than 100 seats, far below its initial goal of 107 seats.

Kim Chong-in, interim chairman of the party, intensified his campaign in the capital and surrounding areas by taking part in street rallies and public gatherings to generate support for the party's candidates.

Moon Jae-in, former chairman of the Minjoo Party, meanwhile, again traveled to Honam, referring to the southwestern region that has traditionally been a bastion of support for liberal parties like Minjoo.

Last week, Moon said he will retire from politics and not participate in next year's presidential elections if the party losses support in Honam.

"The Minjoo would be seen as having done well if it secures more than 100 seats," said Lee Byung-il, a researcher at research agency Embrain, noting that the party recently suffered a blow following the departure of two dozen lawmakers.

The splinter People's Party is likely to win 28-32 seats on the strong backing of voters in the Honam region in the southeastern part of the country. If the People's Party wins more than 20 seats, it can form a negotiating bloc in the parliament.

This year's elections take on greater significance as a test of voter sentiment ahead of the next year's presidential election.

South Koreans will go to the polls to elect a new president to succeed Park Geun-hye, whose single five-year term ends in early 2018. By law, she cannot seek re-election.

Details of voter surveys have not been available since Thursday. Under South Korean law, media publication of opinion polls is banned in the lead-up to the voting.

khj@yna.co.kr
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