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(2nd LD) Ruling party unlikely to win parliamentary majority

All News 01:51 April 14, 2016

(ATTN: UPDATES with details of vote counting)

SEOUL, April 14 (Yonhap) -- South Korea’s ruling Saenuri Party is in shock as it is projected to win only 124 out of 300 seats up for grabs with more than 85 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 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.

More than 85 percent of the votes were counted as of 1:20 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.

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 121 seats and the People's Party is poised to win 39 seats while the minor opposition Justice Party is projected to win five seats and independents could win 11 seats, according to the election watchdog.

The People’s Party emerged as a clear winner in the elections. The People’s Party -- which currently has 20 seats in the outgoing legislature -- won more than 20 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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