(by Andrew Salmon, April 10, 2008, WashingtonTimes.com) SEOUL – Conservatives swept to power in South Korea’s parliamentary elections today, handing a powerful mandate to strongly pro-American President Lee Myung-bak, who was elected in December.
According to preliminary results released by the National Election Commission, the conservative Grand National Party (GNP) won 153 seats in the 299-seat National Assembly, compared with its current 112.
The liberal United Democratic Party (UDP), which supported previous President Roh Moo-hyun, won 81 seats; it currently holds 136. Neither of its standard-bearers, Chairman Sohn Hak-kyu nor presidential candidate Chung Dong-young, won seats.
The election resulted in a major turnaround after a decade of liberal rule. Conservatives now are securely ensconced in the presidential Blue House for five years and the National Assembly for four years.
On a rainy election day, turnout was at a record low. Mr. Sohn called the results “a crisis for democracy.”
Mr. Lee was granted a strong hand to push through policies he delayed until after the parliamentary elections. The former chief executive officer of Hyundai Construction Co. plans to relax oversight of Korea’s powerful conglomerates to spur investment and cut corporate taxes. He also vowed to dig a $16 billion inland waterway from Seoul to Busan in the far south, which he expects to improve logistics and revitalize moribund rural economies.
On foreign policy, he has called for stronger ties with Washington. He also has promised massive economic aid to North Korea but insists it must denuclearize first, a policy that has infuriated Pyongyang.
Mr. Lee is scheduled to meet with President Bush at Camp David on April 18 and 19. They are expected to discuss North Korea, the U.S.-Korea military alliance, the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement — signed last year but awaiting ratification in both countries’ legislatures — and the admission of South Koreans to the U.S. visa waiver program.
Political commentators expressed surprise at the scale of the GNP victory.
“I didn’t think the conservatives were this strong,” said Hahm Sung-deuk, a political science professor at Korea University. “Regardless of age, regardless of sex, the conservative wave is very strong.”
Also strengthened in the election was the party of Lee Hoi-chang, a former GNP politician and a hard-line conservative who ran against Lee Myung-bak in the presidential race. The right-wing party is expected to gain an estimated 18 seats.
The Park Geun-hye Alliance Party is composed of supporters of former GNP Chairwoman Park Geun-hye, who lost to Lee Myung-bak in the GNP primary. The party, along with independent GNP splinters that also support Ms. Park, is expected to take 20 seats. Despite serious differences with President Lee, however, Ms. Park opted to remain inside the GNP. She won her seat in the city of Daegu.
Copyright 2008 News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of the Washington Times. This reprint does not constitute or imply any endorsement or sponsorship of any product, service, company or organization. Visit the website at www.washingtontimes.com.
1. a) Who is the president of South Korea?
b) When was he elected?
2. Which party won the majority of seats in South Korea’s parliamentary elections? Approximately what percentage of seats did they win?
3. Approximately what percent of seats did the liberal United Democratic Party, which supported previous President Roh Moo-hyun win?
4. What is significant about South Korea’s elections results?
5. What policies and projects does President Lee plan on implementing now that his party has won control of Parliament?
6. What is President Lee expected to discuss with President Bush when they meet at Camp David next week?
For background information on South Korea, go to the CIA World FactBook website here.