Landslide victory for main opposition party in South Korea

Friday, June 14, 2002

SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korea's main opposition party won a landslide victory in mayoral and gubernatorial elections that were widely seen as a barometer for presidential voting in December, final results showed Friday.

Election officials said that Grand National Party candidates won 11 of the 16 mayoral and gubernatorial posts at stake in Thursday's vote, including Seoul, the capital, and Busan, the nation's second largest city.

The ruling Millennium Democratic Party took only four posts, with one post going to a splinter opposition party, the United Liberal Democrats, which once formed a coalition government with the ruling party.

Main opposition candidates also took most of the 232 smaller administrative posts up for grabs, the results showed.

All parties struggled to inspire an electorate distracted by the first-ever World Cup soccer tournament in Asia. Turnout slipped to a record low 48 percent of 34.7 million eligible voters, the National Election Commission said.

The outcome was a reversal of the 1998 local elections in which ruling party candidates surged following triumph in presidential voting several months earlier.

"This is the peoples' judgment on the government's mismanagement of state affairs," said Lee Hoi-chang, the main opposition party's presidential candidate and former party chief.

The head of the ruling party, Hahn Hwa-kap, said his party "humbly" accepted the results. "We will undergo bone-carving efforts to be born again," he said.

Lee, who narrowly lost a 1997 election to President Kim Dae-jung, is running for president again this year. He and his opponent, ruling party candidate Roh Moo-hyun, are roughly even in opinion polls ahead of the Dec. 19 election. Kim is barred from running for another five-year term.

Opposition candidates apparently benefited from the disillusionment of many South Korean voters with a string of government corruption scandals.

In one influence-peddling scandal, President Kim's youngest son was arrested and indicted last month on charges of taking dlrs 2.8 million in bribes.

In the Seoul mayoral race, Grand National Party candidate Lee Myung-bak, 60, a former Hyundai executive, beat ruling party candidate Kim Min-seok, 38. Kim, a three-term legislator, led student demonstrations against South Korea's military governments in the 1980s.

Most seats in populous Kyonggi province surrounding Seoul, including Incheon city, also went to the main opposition party.

In other part of the country, voters chose candidates along their regional lines. Main opposition candidates swept virtually all posts in their traditional home turf in Kyongsang province, while the ruling party managed to hold the fort in its traditional stronghold in Cholla province.

The election was held in the midst of the World Cup, which is being co-hosted by South Korea and has electrified a nation whose team has won for the first time in five trips to soccer's showcase event.

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