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(LEAD) Ruling party unlikely to win parliamentary majority

All News 00:51 April 14, 2016

(ATTN: UPDATES with comments by ruling party spokesman)

SEOUL, April 14 (Yonhap) -- South Korea’s ruling Saenuri Party is in shock as it is projected to win only 132 out of 300 seats up for grabs with nearly 70 percent of the votes counted on early Thursday.

Ahn Hyoung-hwan, a spokesman of the ruling party’s election task force, said that his party is to blame for the poor showing, noting the party failed to live up to people’s expectations.

“We humbly accept the election results,” Ahn told reporters. “We will be reborn as the political party that will communicate with people and win their trust.”

His comments came as the party apparently failed to win a parliamentary majority -- the first in 16 years by a ruling party in elections.

The ruling party had been mired in bruising factional infighting over who how to select candidates for the elections.

Nearly 70 percent of the votes were counted as of 12 a.m., according to the National Election Commission.

The polls are crucial in South Korean politics as they will shape the legislative landscape for the next four years and gauge public sentiment ahead of next year's presidential race.

South Koreans will go to the polls in December 2017 to elect a new leader, who will succeed President Park Geun-hye. Park’s single five-year term ends in early 2018. By law, she cannot seek re-election.

An analysis of South Korea's public broadcaster KBS predicted that the ruling Saenuri Party could win 129 seats, compared with 115 seats of the main opposition Minjoo Party and 36 seats of the People's Party. KBS had conducted a joint exit poll with two other broadcasters MBC and SBS.

The ruling party’s poor performance is expected to deal a blow to Park’s efforts to push ahead with a series of reform bills.

Park has so far faced an uphill battle in passing a set of bills through the National Assembly because of the National Assembly Advancement Law. This law stipulates that a bill with contested issues can only be put up for a vote with the approval of more than 60 percent of sitting lawmakers.

Meanwhile, the main opposition Minjoo Party could secure 105 seats and the People's Party is poised to win 36 seats, and independents could win 12 seats, according to the election watchdog.

The People’s Party was leading in 23 out of 28 contested districts in the country’s southwestern region, a key political stronghold of the Minjoo Party and its predecessors.

The People's Party broke away from the New Politics Alliance for Democracy, which later changed its name to the Minjoo Party ahead of the elections in an apparent move to improve its image.

In South Korea, changing a party's name is a common vote-buying tactic, although its members rarely change.

Wednesday's elections came amid tensions on the Korean Peninsula following North Korea's nuclear test and long-range rocket launch earlier this year.

There has been speculation that North Korea may carry out a fifth nuclear test or launch a long-range missile to mark the birthday of the country’s founder Kim Il-sung on Friday. Kim, who died in 1994, is the grandfather of current leader Kim Jong-un.

Currently, the ruling party has 146 seats, while the Minjoo Party and the People's Party have 102 and 20 seats in the 292-member legislature, respectively. Seven other seats are held by three other minor parties while 17 seats are independents.

The total number of parliamentary seats was 300 in 2012, but it has since dropped to 292 as some of them later lost their seats.


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